Rugby and cricket never captured the imagination of Cypriots. Cyprus was under British control for 60 years last century and while the beautiful game of football became popular after it was introduced at the English School Nicosia in 1900 neither rugby nor cricket appealed to the Cypriot temperament.

I got thinking about rugby and its failure to take root in some countries and not in others while watching the Rugby World Championship 2023 in France in which several nations taking part were former British colonies while others like India, Pakistan and Cyprus are notably absent.

Participant nations from the British Isles include the favourites to win the World Cup, Ireland, representing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – in line with Irish nationality law that all Irishmen and women are first and foremost Irish.

England, Scotland, and Wales are taking part independently in the normal way and not as Team GB which they do in international competitions like the Olympics. The nations of the UK have separate sport associations that are tolerated and recognised internationally because the sport originated in Britain.

Rugby, as its name suggests, started life at an English boys boarding school called Rugby in the English Midlands in the 19th century and the sport is popular across the British Isles. Wales, however, treats Rugby as part of Welsh identity – William, Prince of Wales, was noticeable by his absence in the Women’s World Cup in Sydney last month, but did not dare absent himself from the rugby game between Wales and Fiji last week.

Although it is no longer a niche sport, the countries taking part in the World Cup are an eclectic bunch. Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa were all formerly part of the British Empire. Namibia, by contrast, was a German colony that was subsequently taken over by South Africa in the days of apartheid 1949-1991 until it attained independence in 1990.

But France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Georgia in Europe and Argentina and Uruguay in South America were not former British colonies. All that can be said about the popularity of rugby in those countries is that it was introduced there by immigrants from the British Isles and that rugby is particularly popular in France because they happen to like it – they are also good at it and are second favourites to win the World Cup.

Rugby grounds are the familiar H-shaped goal posts 100 metres apart with a backline 70 metres across. The ball in rugby is egg-shaped and bounces unpredictably. The two opposing teams number 15 divided as back and forward players: some are stocky strong heavies and some are of a more athletic build.

The aim of the game is to get the ball across the backline by a player grounding the ball over the line with his body or over the crossbar within the H-shaped goal from a drop-goal or a penalty kick. You score goals, but unlike football, they are counted as points: managing to ground the ball over the opposing team’s goal line is called a try and awards five points; two points are given for converting a free kick over the crossbar following a try; and three points each from penalty kicks and drop goals.

The most important rule in rugby is that you pass the ball by throwing it back or sideways to a teammate – you cannot pass the ball by throwing it forward. This rule makes for the most thrilling move in any rugby match, which happens when a team launches a chain attack. The ball is passed backwards to teammates one by one in a line of players as they forward until the last man inside the ground breaks through the defence line of the opposing team and dives across the backline to ground the ball and score five points.

The most familiar and boring and incomprehensible part of the game is the scrum following an infringement deemed not serious to attract an award of a penalty kick. Unless you are a player engaged in the scrum you cannot see what is going on except that the two teams are interlocked and pushing against one another; sometimes the ball is picked up from the back of the scrum and thrown backwards in a chain attack but otherwise scrums are anti-spectator events.

The second most boring part of rugby happens following a rugby-tackle. The rugby-tackle has become part of the English language to describe diving to capture someone from around the waist and bring them down to the ground – police frequently rugby tackle offenders they wish to arrest. In rugby, an opposing player is entitled to dive and bring the possessor of the ball down by grabbing him round the waist to bring down to the ground. The idea is that once he is grounded, he has to release the ball which is then up for grabs.

Rugby tackles often result in pile ups which means one cannot see what is going on. A frequent problem with rugby is that although it is a spectator sport it is often not easy to see what is going on. There is too much mud and blood and sweat. It has too many rules and too many stops and starts and its referees talk too much, and the game does not flow seamlessly as it does in football.

More to the point however, I suspect that rugby did not take root in Cyprus because grass grounds essential to tackling and scoring did not exist until relatively recently and perhaps because a rule-based blood sport is not the average Cypriot’s idea of fun and games.