Long before football became popular in the US, 30 years before the first rules for association football, or soccer, were written up, in a university in Cambridge, England, there was rugby: A ball-based game played in prep schools throughout Britain, a different interpretation of soccer.
Originally known as rugger, rugby was developed by a student tired of the restrictions of soccer, who picked up the ball and began to run with it. Soon, this blossomed into a competitive sport, spreading throughout Great Britain, and then Europe.
Once it had spread through Europe, rugby began to appear in both South American countries and British colonies, where it had been brought over by immigrants. It was also taken to Australia, New Zealand and many of the Pacific Islands, where it has gained a fairly large following and even lead to the development of Australian Rules Football in Australia. The game of American football is even based off of rugby. It does, therefore, come as a surprise that rugby itself did not make the jump across the pond until now, that is.
Peninsula Green Rugby was set up in the San Francisco area in 1998 and has continued on until the present day. It has faced many obstacles throughout the course of its history, namely a lack of players and, in most cases, visibility.
“Some of the coaches for the Peninsula Seahawks came to one of our football practices and were giving out fliers,” senior Thomas Wilcox said. “My mom asked me and my brother [Ty Wilcox] if we’d like to try rugby. We wanted to try out a new sport, so we said yes.”
Rugby teams throughout the Bay Area have slowly begun to gain a greater following, with more players joining up, but still having a long way to go before they can even begin to match football.
The rules of rugby are in many ways fairly straight forward. Each team consists of 15 players divided between backs and forwards. The forwards are charged with being both the first line of defence and moving the ball up the field.
The backs, on the other hand, are charged with being the last line of defence and scoring tries as well as kicking drop-goals. A drop goal, worth three points, is when a player drop kicks the ball between the two uprights which are similar to those in football.
A try is when a player runs into an area of the field pretty much identical to the footballing end-zone in size and location, and places the ball on the ground to score five points. Two more points can be obtained with a two point conversion, similar to the extra point in football.
Rugby has very few stoppages and for many players that is what adds to its allure.
“It’s very fast-paced, it’s super fun,” sophomore Ty Wilcox said.“People think that rugby is super intense, but if you play hard you won’t get injured or anything like that. It’s just really fun.”
To play rugby, players generally have to be in superb physical shape, as rugby incorporates both brawn and stamina. Unlike in football, players have to perform at a high level for 80 minutes in a game. This necessity for high stamina resulted in the need for less padding in rugby to maintain a high level of intensity throughout the match.
This has led to the common misconception that rugby is an incredibly dangerous sport. However, rules have been put in place to avoid any sort of serious injury, such as the rule that a player cannot be tackled above the chest.
As in any contact sport, concussions are a not an altogether unknown occurrence in rugby.
“Well in all my years of playing rugby I got my first concussion last year, and the guy who hit me: it was a cheap shot and a dangerous tackle, he didn’t even tackle right,” Ty Wilcox said. “He basically tried to football tackle me, which isn’t allowed.”
When playing both rugby and other more well-known sports in the US, players can experience both the positives and negatives. Although players do learn safer, and arguably 00 more effective ways to tackle in rugby, many coaches still fear for the safety of their players.
“If [a coach has] a basketball player and he’s really good, then coaches hear that he’s playing rugby, [the coach is] not going to want that, because if [the player] gets hurt, then there goes his scholarship and his season,” senior Tonga Latu said.
There is, of course, a lot of pressure on players to bring visibility to rugby in and around the Bay Area. Although there are a fair few football players who take up rugby during the winter season, it is still not enough for schools like Palo Alto High School to be able to set up their own rugby teams. Nonetheless, players must continue to strive for greater recognition for their sport throughout the US.
“As a marginal sport we have to be ambassadors to the game and we have to give a good image of rugby to our school,” junior Ren Makino said. “So it’s really important for us to be good people at school, on and off the field to show how good of a sport rugby is.”
Rugby is generally considered to be a gentleman’s sport, due to both the tradition of sportsmanship that pervades throughout the game as well as its aristocratic roots. Despite its physical nature, a strong sense of camaraderie is held between players of the sport, even those on opposite teams, founded in no small part on the high physical demands placed on a player’s body.
“I think [rugby] builds a lot of sportsmanship,” Makino said. “I never see football players being really happy after the game with each other, but in rugby I really see everyone will shake hands and hug after every match, even in loss.”
Rugby contains a prodigious amount of sportsmanship, a sort of code of honor which players and fans alike violate at their own peril. Players stay to congratulate each other at the end of games, a sort of recognition of the sheer effort both teams have put in.
The same notion of sportsmanship applies to fans as well. The basic motive fans have for coming to a rugby game is not to support their own team but rather to enjoy a game of rugby. This incredible love of the game above all else is unprecedented in any other sport. In most other sports, there is a clear and divisive line between two sets of fans, whereas in rugby, fans tend to mingle.
“I just like rugby because of the intensity of it, I just love running, just getting contact and everything, it’s just really fun,” Latu said. “When you play rugby, when you have a team, throughout the time, throughout the season, you’re going to build a brotherhood.”
The benefits of playing rugby extend beyond those of the sport itself, or even beyond the development of children into effective members of society. Rugby also helps players in other sports.
“I feel like rugby helps a lot with football” Latu said. “Rugby is compared to Football, or football to rugby. I think rugby helps with track as well, I mean with speed. It also helps with wrestling.”
In many ways, rugby is an incredibly multi-faceted sport, as it could be argued that a player cannot solely specialize in one position, as ultimately the skills required for each position are fairly similar: Strength, technical ability and stamina.
If the brotherhood, sportsmanship and high intensity of rugby are to your liking, you can check Peninsula Rugby at www.PeninsulaGreenRugby.org