by Tom Billups
“Tuck them in and pull them up." These are the first words our summer rugby campers hear from me after our welcoming meeting and a request I make to almost each group of rugby athletes I have worked with. Tuck in your jerseys and pull up your rugby socks. Please.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with 11- to 19-year-old players each summer is that many are brand new to the game of rugby and I get to “see” the game through their eyes for the first time all over again. Among the many lessons we teach at our camp is the need for proper rugby gear. I often try to use a little humor when I say “Mike Tyson doesn’t play rugby” to those players who walk onto Witter Rugby Field with no-show white socks on. Tyson chose to not wear socks in the ring.
Players who are new to the game often suffer a double “I don’t." The first is that they simply don’t have any proper rugby gear, which is not only understandable, but also very correctable. The second is that they do not know that it is important to wear proper rugby socks, shorts and jersey when training or playing the game of rugby. Having rugby socks on, and pulled up, will save your skin from abrasions. Wearing rugby shorts allows your teammates to bind onto you at the set piece and not be embarrassed if a defender grabs a hold of you as you run past. Rugby shorts are designed to be very sturdy, and won’t tear as easily as common workout shorts. Lastly, having a rugby jersey on allows for all of the previously mentioned benefits. Jerseys protect your body, allow for binding, and won’t tear easily in the tackle.
It is also vital to have the correct size of jersey on when training and competing. Although a horse-collar tackle is illegal (dangerous play), horse-collar tackles are made more possible if your jersey is too big for you. For my position as a hooker, there was nothing worse than to be swimming in a jersey that was too big while props were trying to bind on. This only happened once, versus Ireland at Lansdowne Road in 1994, and I never let it happen again.
In 2003, the England coach, Clive Woodward, felt that if he had more form-fitting jerseys on his players, Jason Robinson would have scored a hat trick versus Scotland in the Six Nations Championship. It was this, in part, that prompted Nike to develop the jersey that bears the red rose today.
And finally, the most important part of any rugby player’s equipment is a mouthpiece. A correctly fitted mouthpiece is the best protection a rugby player can have to prevent tooth damage and lessen the chance of a concussion. What mouthpieces don’t do it replace the need for sound tackle mechanics (head up, head behind the ball carrier’s legs). Headgear has a role in protecting your head and ears from lacerations, but has proven to do little to lessen the chance of concussion in relation to having and using a properly fitted mouthpiece.
So tuck them in, pull them up, and put in your mouthpiece. Let’s go train.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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