When we registered for the « Rugby Five Exhibition » we were both full of enthusiasm and fervour! As two former rugbymen we dreamt of practicing it in Cambridge. We were prepared and ready to play again: jerseys with the colours of our favourite teams, shorts, socks, everything. We even bought a ball and went for some runs to be in better shape with the hope not to be too ridiculous on the field.
After a careful analysis of the particular rules of the rugby with five players we decided to go to the given address to finally play with our best enemies in this sport. First strange thing, the address was indicating a huge building in the middle of research facilities. Well, there might be rugby fields with roof. As we introduced ourselves, they told us to have a seat and wait. We waited and started talking about the combinations we could use: cut out pass, changes of direction, kicks etc. Then, the second strange thing: the man who came to pick us, was not as tall and strong as we imagined, smaller than us, which is quite unusual. Moreover, he was wearing a T-shirt with written “squash coach”. This should have warned us.
As we moved in the building looking for a synthetic field as rugby with only five players does not allow tackling, we were joined by a lovely Puerto Rican couple and their two (very) young children. Third strange thing. Are we really going to play against two children?!
Finally, we found the room to start. The coach had these wonderful words “welcome to the rugby fives exhibition! First thing this game has nothing to do with Rugby”. And we remained standing, trying to keep our best poker face, with all our equipment in our bags and a fierce feeling of surprise, deception and stupidity. So, we were there, trying to look natural, watching a match between two excellent players (ranked 5 and the 25 in the country) of this game, looking like squash without a racquet.
So like you have probably understood (faster than us) this article will not concern Rugby but Eton Rugby Five: a very strange and unknown sport.
What is Eton Rugby Fives?
Using a novice language the Eton Rugby Fives could be defined as a strange mix between squash and Basque Pelota. Two players are facing on a court using a small ball and wearing thick gloves. The goal is to force the other player to fail to hit the ball ‘up’ off the front wall, using any variety of wall combinations as long as the ball is played ‘up’ before it bounces twice. The player who serves is located at the front of the court and the player who is receiving at the back. One game is played in 3 sets of 12 points each. The most important rule is that you can only use your gloves to return the ball and you have to return it within the pitch limits.
Where does it come from?
Eton Rugby Fives was invented in the city of Rugby in the 19th century. It is a very uncommon sport, with only a few courts; most of them are part of the facilities of the public schools in the United Kingdom (the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, King Edward’s School…). Moreover some universities as Cambridge, Oxford or Lancing College have indoor courts and only a few courts exist outside England in Australia, Switzerland and India.
Even if there are a huge number of championships almost everywhere around the country, Rugby Fives remains an unknown sport mainly due to the lack of private clubs. In fact the few courts are owned by very selective schools and do not guarantee an easy access and visibility to this sport. Even if the situation tends to evolve with the creation of the first private courts in a squash club in London, Eton Rugby Fives is still an unknown sport played by an elite category of players.
Time to practice
After David (the coach) explained us the game while watching the exhibition between the two players, it was our turn to play. We have to tell you we entered the court with a bit of skepticism about the interest of this game but after a few balls we started to take pleasure. It was very strenuous and quite hard to control the ball using a glove and we rapidly understood it was not an easy game at all!!! After have played during 40 minutes we thanked the coach and the players and left the building happy about this experience because we discovered a sport we never played and maybe will never play again.
Finally, even if we expected to play real Rugby, this experience has been very enriching and we strongly encourage people visiting Cambridge or other parts of England to try Eton Rugby Five because it is typically the kind of thing you cannot do in France. For the persons interested in watching a game you can find videos on YouTube and after a first view it could make laugh… as long as you are not on the pitch!!!
(By Hugo PETITJEAN and Thomas VIGIER)