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Don't know rules? Don't worry, you can still be an expert on the game

By Niall Crozier

I had an interesting conversation earlier this week with Steven Gauge, author of My Life as a Hooker and The Bluffer's Guide to Rugby.

Funny, funny man.

As well as having a great sense of humour, he has a pretty good sense of timing, too.

For with Ireland having just won the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship and Ulster facing Saracens in the Heineken Cup at Ravenhill 10 days hence, rugby is very much in the spotlight right now.

Pitch in a World Cup in only 18 months time and you see how well timed his highly amusing 115-page, pocket-size gem is.

Now, the 18,000 who make their way to that Ulster v Saracens showdown on Saturday April 5 will include quite a few whose knowledge and understanding of rugby and its many idiosyncrasies is limited and in some cases non-existent.

This level of ignorance is not confined to spectators, however, as per Gauge it applies to many players too.

By trade a political consultant, he told me that, as a schoolboy, he had disliked sport in general and rugby in particular. So he came late to the game.

"I think a lot of people are put off sport because they're led to believe you have to be very good and know the ins and outs of everything whereas, really, if you just turn up having found a pair of boots you can pretty much enjoy the game at a fairly low level of expertise," he said.

"I came to the conclusion fairly quickly that there wasn't much point in learning the rules because they change from one game to the next, depending on the referee and certainly from one season to the next because there's definitely a permanent committee somewhere considering what changes they can make.

"And, of course, the game itself came from one little public school boy who picked up the ball and ran with it, so he certainly wasn't too worried about the rules.

"I think that's part of rugby's appeal – people are trying to find out how they can enjoy the game more than burdening themselves with trying to remember rules, which in some cases may prevent them doing that.

"Enjoying the spirit of rugby is far more important than knowing all of the rules," he said in a manner that suggested it may have been from the heart.

"And I think once you realise and accept that no-one, whether playing or watching, knows very much about the game, then you can become an expert very quickly.

"Knowing the right thing to say – whether or not you understand what it is you're saying – is what matters, really."

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