Each rugby season has a unique trajectory and set of narratives. Matches are won and lost, and supporters hopes are raised, and then dashed.
Changing weather conditions, from early September through to April and May, provide the backdrop to the story of each campaign.
Spectators can start the season in shorts and tee-shirts. There will be a switch to jackets and long trousers by October, followed by the continual donning of extra layers as winter sets in, not to mention the odd surreptitious nip from a hip flask.
Then, around the middle of March the sartorial process reverses itself, ending with the last few games enjoyed in warm sunshine.
From a spectating point of view, there is no such thing as bad weather, rather it is more a case of being badly prepared for it. But the changing conditions can have a much greater effect on the games themselves.
Find out about some of the ways extreme weather conditions can affect rugby matches.
High winds can be a double-edged sword
Even relatively warm days can bring with them high winds and, given how kicking is so integral to the game, you do not even need to have gale-force conditions for a match to be affected.
The standard assumption is that playing with a high wind at your back should give you an advantage. It is certainly something TV commentators tend to stress when they are considering the weather conditions during a match.
However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that a strong wind blowing down the pitch can create almost as many problems if you are playing with it as against it.
Yes, it makes it easier for a defending side to get distance on a clearance kick to relieve attacking pressure. But, it is just as easy for downfield kicks from your own 22 to get carried over the dead-ball line and result in an attacking scrum for your opponents.
Likewise, if you are kicking into a fierce headwind and do not catch the ball right, you could end up with it flying back over your head. But getting the right height and distance can result in a nightmare for an oncoming opponent trying to get underneath it.
Gale conditions can also play havoc with place-kicking. A gusting wind that drops just as boot meets ball can result in a well-directed kick heading towards the corner-flag.
When the temperature drops
A common rejoinder to someone complaining about the cold, on the touchline or in the dressing room, is that “you should have chosen a summer sport”.
The changing nature of rugby over the years, especially at professional levels, means that the archetype of wingers getting frostbite when the thermometer heads towards zero degrees and teams focusing on a nine or ten-man game is a thing of the past.
However, frozen pitches can pose big problems, regardless of the level. Club games can often be called off due to solid conditions underfoot, even if the ground is bathed in sunshine.
It happens at the very top levels, too, most notoriously when the 2012 France against Ireland match in Paris was called off just before kick-off. The Stade de France was full, the band were getting ready to play the national anthems, and the players were actually out warming up.
A combination of freezing cold and heavy sleet really is not much fun for anyone, apart perhaps from TV producers who love shots of steam rising off a scrum and rain caught in the glare of the floodlights.
The times when rugby becomes a game of four quarters
The seasonal nature of rugby around the globe means that occasions when matches are affected by extremely high temperatures are relatively rare compared to other weather conditions.
However, global warming is having an effect on the game in some parts of the world. According to a News24 report in 2018, drought in South Africa led to the start of the domestic season in some areas being delayed. Likewise, as reported by Rugby.com.au, widespread fires caused by rising temperatures in Australia in 2020 raised concerns about player safety.
Then there was the heat and humidity that became a big factor during the 2019 World Cup in Japan, with teams devoting a lot of time to acclimatisation arrangements before and during the tournament.
In hot conditions, it does not take long for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration to start becoming issues.
The growing awareness of the effect heat can have and recognition of the importance of player safety means that early and late-season matches will often become four-quarter affairs, as officials will mandate compulsory drinks breaks after 20 and 60 minutes, as well as half-time.
Are they playing rugby, or water polo?
Despite the growing popularity of artificial pitches at grounds like Saracens, there will always be a sense that rugby in winter is somehow supposed to be played on a muddy pitch in driving rain.
There is a good reason why Muddied Oafs is the title of one of the most well-known written histories of the game, and why pictures of rugby being played in muddy conditions with the two teams indistinguishable under layers of mud, such as these ones available on Ruck.co.uk, are part of rugby legend.
One of the most extreme examples of heavy rain affecting a match was the All Blacks v Scotland match at Auckland in 1975. There was so much standing water on the pitch that it was christened “Lake Eden”, and the consensus was that the conditions were more suitable for water polo than a rugby match.
Had Scotland not been booked on flights home the next day, the match would have almost certainly been cancelled.
The pitch was so flooded that there were serious concerns that someone could have drowned had they been caught at the bottom of a ruck.
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This article is for information only. Please do not act based on anything you might read in this article. All contents are based on our understanding of HMRC legislation, which is subject to change.