It’s 7:02 p.m. and the sky is dimly lit as high pitched whistles of the officiating crews are drowned out by roaring thunder.
To my right, lacrosse sticks clash, whipped around violently by a group of robustly built women. Off to my left, I hear grunts of gassed soccer players, as they sprint up and down an endless field. I see footballs littering the air as flag football games have just gotten underway.
I tremble as another wave of thunder ripples through the sky. While regaining my composure, my eyes fixate on an arbitrary group of students located at the back end of the field. A few stout men in oddly short shorts toss around what seemed to be an irregularly shaped, oversized football.
These had to be the guys I was looking for.
As I approached, I got the sense I was crossing the border to a foreign land.
“Pass it here, mate,” one said.
“Swing it already, you British twit,” one player shouted at a teammate.
This whole scene gave them away.
I had found the FAU Rugby club.
Tentative in my new environment, I laced up my cleats and observe the action from the sidelines. Then a player caught me off guard, giving me a playful shove.
“Ready to play my friend?”
Players dressed in tight, collared shirts and shorts — the kind of stuff I’m used to seeing women wear to a club — flew around the field with little regard for my lack of experience. I was thrust into a pickup game that I didn’t understand. It broke down into organized chaos. Directions being shouted from player to player. Positional calls being made by captains on each squad.
“Go wide, Go wide!”
I was the center of criticism when I blatantly missed a tackle and had a guy speed past me scoring a try [rugby’s version of touchdown].
Rugby? More like football without pads.
Feeling the pressure to show my bravado, with my first touch off a pitch, my feet moved faster than my body, leading me to collapse flat on my face to the amusement of those watching.
The pickup game grew in numbers, 10, 15, now 20 finely tuned athletes embodied the field.
As we lined up for a kickoff, I glanced down the line and it was a scene straight out of Braveheart. Players chatter with European accents as Garrett Jones stands tall as he sets for the kick, with his lengthy dirty brown hair streaking behind him as the wind gusts. I felt a sense of camaraderie as my fellow warriors and I began charging down the field into the ensuing rugby scrum.
With rain drizzling and lightning illuminating the distant sky, the practice was undoubtedly coming to a close. At that moment, I had to make the most of my opportunity. I took the pitch and planted my foot in the ground, launching myself upfield at blazing speed, out-running the seasoned veterans to score the try.
I received half-witted praise from my teammates on the way back to huddle.
“Good run mate,” one player muffled, as his head bowed in disbelief.
“The newbie scored,” another player directed at his defensive squad in an irate fashion, waving his arms vigorously, trying to spark some kind of fire in them to get them to play better.
“Oh, the new guy thinks he can play, aye?” A player rhetorically stated in a laughable manner while he stood, hands on his hips, crudely smiling in amusement at the situation.
They just had a complete stranger to the sport of rugby score a long try. Obvious disbelief stained their faces.
With the eerie weather siren sounding, practice was cut short after 20 minutes. On my way off the field I ran into coach Richard Jackson and introduced myself.
He cut me off — “You’re from the newspaper? You looked good out there; I might just have to recruit you,” Jackson said in an accent I later learned was Zimbabwean.
With a roster consisting mostly of the leftovers from the football team and other sports. The rugby team has performed well. The FAU rugby team (founded in 1990) held the Florida Cup for six straight years at one point. Last year, FAU finished third in the state out of 15 teams.
With that said, the club team still lacks exposure on campus, forcing them to resort to unusual tactics to get attention. Gregory Sun, playing position, Lock #8, and the president of the rugby club, heads the campaign to market the team.
“Sometimes we even go out on the Breezeway to promote games,” Sun said.
Jackson is optimistic, however, that rugby can eventually thrive not just at FAU but in America as a whole.
“I think the major thing is that we don’t get the sponsorship. The school is not as involved as we would like them to be,” Jackson said. “It’s a growing sport; not popular in America right now, but it is growing. Especially if we start winning and get kids playing.“
Jackson may prefer more involvement from FAU with his club, but he still appreciates the amenities they provide.
“The school does give us a lot of things — a decent field, they line the field for us, they help us out a lot,” Jackson said. “So we can’t be selfish and say that they’re not helping us.”
Sun would love for them to one day become an NCAA Division I-A team, but as of now, he is content with things the way they are.
“I mean, that’s a long term goal, but it’s not even something that’s really talked about too much. The way we have it setup now seems to be working just fine,” Sun said. “We already show that there is a lot of athleticism, a lot of talent. We show that rugby is a sport.”
Galvin Curtis agrees that rugby is a sport not to be taken lightly. He cites the global success of rugby as his reasoning, even challenging the public to come try out, if they’re man enough.
“I think the biggest thing the club needs is some exposure. Come out, try it. It’s not like tiddlywinks. It’s a serious sport, and it’s a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry,” Curtis said. “We’re going to have a professional rugby team right here next year. Anybody who feels athletic and likes a little contact can do it.”
After receiving only a marginal taste of rugby Tuesday night, I still felt prepared for Thursday’s practice.
I stepped onto the field under the piercing Henderson Field lights. The skirmish was underway. This time, for about 40 minutes. My heartbeat soared as I took it upon myself to call for the ball while using terms I had picked up through my brethren. I advised my teammates to “swing it” as I bounced to the outside, spreading the dense field out.
You want to move the ball from one side of the field to the other, looking for a gap in the defense which you can exploit by running through it picking up yards, ultimately getting you closer to scoring.
Throughout the game, I felt as if I were transforming into one of the “guys” instead of assuming the role of reporter.
The coach blew his ear-ringing whistle and ordered us to the back line of the field. Players had scowls on their faces and jogged at a half pace, lowering their heads in fear of what was about to come.
The dreaded whistle blew again and a group of players sprinted at full pace down the long field. Again the whistle blew.
I was next.
By about the third time down field, I was physically dominated by that godforsaken whistle. My cardiovascular system had betrayed me. Heaving and wheezing, reaching for that elusive next breath, thinking wind sprints couldn’t be the way I go out.
Fortunately for me, the coach eased up on his menacing onslaught long enough for me to sluggishly reach the sidelines, where Gatorade would be my morphine.
This was no halftime. Head Coach Richard Jackson had us return back on the field immediately to run passing drills. This constant up-tempo atmosphere backs up captain Matthew Rogg’s assessment of rugby over football.
“You have to be in shape for rugby,” Rogg said. “We are in such great shape because they [ The FAU football team] do 13 seconds and we go 40 minutes without stopping.”
The captain couldn’t have spoken truer words; my body’s absolute exhaustion is a testament to that.
Practice concluded with an inspirational speech from both coaches.
“I don’t need to see players around here bullshiting like it’s a social hour. You can do that if you want to be hodgepodge,” assistant coach Galvin Curtis said. “If you want to be champions, you have to cut that shit out.”
“With the talent we have, you can go half-ass in practice and still manage to beat a lot of our competition, but you’re better than that!” Jackson emphasized.
Jackson concluded by giving the team a little extracurricular incentive for winning big games.
“Imagine the celebration after we beat UF,” Jackson said. “I know I won’t sleep that fucking night.”
The men’s rugby team holds practice every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. at Henderson Field. Everyone is welcome to participate. The FAU rugby team’s fall season opener is on Oct. 6 when they host Ava Maria at Henderson Field.
2012 Fall Schedule
09/1- At Florida Gulf Coast University
09/8- Vs University of Miami
09/15- At Ava Maria
09/22- Vs Florida International University
09/29- At SIRC 7′s(FSU)
10/6- Vs Ava Maria (SEASON OPENER)
10/6- Alumni Game (afternoon) at FAU
10/13- Vs Middle Tennessee State University
10/20- University of South Florida, All-Florida day Tavares, FL
10/21- University of Florida, All-Florida day Tavares, Fl
10/28- At University of Central Florida
11/03- Vs University of Miami
11/10- At Florida International University
11/17- Collegiate Florida Cup semi-final, TBD
11/18- Collegiate Florida Cup Final, TBD
Rugby For Dummies:
Since rugby is a foreign sport, and isn’t popular in America, yet; Most people have the slightest clue as to the actual gameplay of rugby. Below are a few terms courtesy of the Hempfield Rugby Club to provide an idea of how the sport is played.
|Advantage||A method of referee. The referee allows the game to proceed uninterrupted as long as the ball is in play and there are no major infractions. Play can continue after an infraction if the non-offending team gains an advantage.|
|Blind Side||The side nearest to the touch line.|
|Drop Kick||A technique where the ball is dropped to the ground and as it bounces back up, it is kicked.|
|Dummy||A technique where one pretends to pass the ball.|
|Free Kick||Kick where a score may be made. Can be taken as a place kick, drop kick, or if no score is attempted, a punt.|
|Grubber Kick||A kick technique where the ball bounces along the ground.|
|Knock-on||Where a player propels the ball toward the opponent’s goal line. This results in a penalty.|
|Line-out||A play where two single file lines are formed by both teams after the ball goes out of touch. A player from the team that did not take it our throws the ball back in from the touch line between the two lines. This brings the ball back into play and determines which team receives the ball.|
|Maul||A loose formation brought around a player who is still in possession of the ball and has no been brought to the ground.|
|Obstruction||Also called blocking. Where a player gets in the way of an opponent who is chasing the ball. This results in a penalty.|
|Off-side||Generally when a player is in front of the ball when it was played last by a team member. A penalty occurs if a player is off-side and obstructs an opponent, plays the ball or is within 10 meters (10 yards) of an opponent playing the ball.|
|Penalty Kick||Kick awarded to the non-offending team after a penalty occurs.|
|Place Kick||A kick technique where the ball is placed on the ground before being kicked.|
|Punt Kick||A kick technique where the ball is dropped and kicked before it touches the ground.|
|Ruck||A loose formation created around a free ball or a player who has been brought to the ground.|
|Scrummage (scrum)||A tight formation between the two opposing teams in readiness for the ball to be put in the tunnel between the two front rows and brought out into play.|
|Try||Method of scoring worth 5 points by touching the ball down in the opponent’s goal area.|
Rugby took some getting use too. The playing field is similar to that of a soccer field. The team with the ball must advance it down the field, only tossing it laterally, to score the try. Each score is worth five points with the extra point try being worth two. Sounds simple right? You must do all this going full speed, with players coming to drive you into the turf and get the ball back. There is two 40 minute halves with a 10 minute intermission. Going nonstop for such a long period of time adds another element to the interesting sport of rugby. Conditioning.The similarities are glaring between soccer and football but rugby has it’s own flare if you will. The standout gameplay aspect is the scrum. The scrum is used as a restart after any penalty or stoppage in play. The two teams group up and bind together, the ball is then placed in the middle of the scrum, then the chaos begins. Both teams push to gain possession of the ball and get it out of the scrum.
That’s the general breakdown of this complex sport. To get a better understanding, I suggest you come out to one of the games. BYOC, bring your own chair. (Limited bleacher seating)