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Full contact ahead - rugby in Germany
"People are always amazed when I tell them that rugby has been around in Germany for 150 years," said Ian Rawcliffe, Briton and President of the German Rugby Association (DRV) to Deutsche Welle. Rawcliffe is one of the guests of honor at the presentation of the official Rugby World Cup - the Webb Ellis Trophy - in Bonn.
It is a special treat for rugby fans to be able to see the famous trophy, which is on a world tour in Germany in the run-up to the World Cup in September and October, up close. Because anyone who plays or pursues rugby in the land of round balls has to be passionate about it.
Before World War II, rugby was even more popular and Germany "was among the top nations," said Rawcliffe. Although league operations were resumed as early as 1954, fewer and fewer people played with the rugby egg.
Despite the long tradition of oval ball sports in Germany, rugby is now an absolute fringe sport. In recent years, the number of registered players has increased by half, but "from a very low starting level," explains Rawcliffe.
There are now 12,000 members in 125 associations. If you compare that with the almost 26,000 football clubs in Germany, you can confidently speak of a niche sport.
Germany's first pure rugby club was founded in Hanover in 1878
Sean Armstrong, captain of the German men's national team, also sees this as an opportunity for the youngsters. Unlike in football - or in his rugby-crazy homeland Australia - you can "get the chance to play at Bundesliga level and also at national level with a few years of training," he said in an interview with DW.
In order for that to work, you should of course start young. Armstrong is therefore one of the players who use the DRV to promote the sport in German schools.
"That would have been impossible 20 years ago," recalls Rawcliffe. When he became president, he had to explain to school principals why rugby is not "too brutal" and should therefore not be banned in schools.
Steffen Liebig, who also plays for the national team, still has to do a lot of persuasion today, but when people come along to a game, they often catch fire straight away. "They often ask: 'Why isn't the sport more popular here, it's great."
Germany is currently in 28th place in the world, far behind the continental European rugby greats France and Italy, but also far behind Romania and Georgia, for example. They are all qualified for one of the world's biggest sporting events - the Rugby World Cup - Germany has never made it.
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Although numerous World Cup games are to be broadcast on German television this time, many Germans still find it difficult to follow the game. Tackling looks so different than in football, there are also strange-sounding things like crowds, alleys and rucksacks. There is also kicked every now and then, and people are constantly lying on top of each other, seemingly uncoordinated.
"The 7-a-side rugby helped us a lot," says Rawcliffe from the DRV. Instead of 15, there are only seven players per team on the field, which is as big as a football field in both 15 and 7 rugby.
7-a-side rugby is much faster, there are more tries - the rugby equivalent of goal - and it is only played for seven minutes twice. In addition, for some there are less jerks and crowds that seem chaotic. So it's perfect for spectators.
Since this version will become an Olympic discipline for the first time in Rio de Janeiro next year, there will also be more funding and performance centers, including for women. At the moment only around a quarter of the players in Germany are female. Many play 7-a-side rugby - and the number is rising.
"It's about agility and you have to be good at handling the ball - it's just a fast sport that is a lot of fun. Every woman or girl can play - whether small, tall, thin or fat," said Alysha Stone , Captain of the women's national team. Stone, like Armstrong and Liebig, plays in Heidelberg, the stronghold of German rugby.
Rawcliffe can only agree with that. He believes that young Germans are "well suited" for sport. Because: "If you give a child a ball, what does it do with it? It picks up the ball and runs," he says. "If you add another child, they both wrestle for the ball and you have two budding rugby players," said Rawcliffe.
In addition, rugby is also about discipline: while top footballers are always loudly questioning the referee's decisions, this is completely frowned upon in rugby. Whoever complains too much "flies" explains Rawcliffe.
Who knows, that could induce some parents to encourage their children to practice rugby. Or at least to watch one or two World Cup games at home or in the pub. There is sure to be a fan there who can explain the rules.
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