Rugby Teams Growing by Leaps and Bounds

From 2007 to 2009, rugby was America’s fastest-growing sport, according to a study conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). In 2010 alone, participation in the sport increased by 50.7 percent, bringing the total number of American rugby players to a little over one million.

American interest in rugby is also expected to increase with the inclusion of rugby sevens in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero. The United States has won the past two gold medals in the event, which came in 1920 at the Antwerp games and in 1924 in Paris.

Here at Swarthmore, interest in rugby is higher than ever as both the men’s and women’s teams, which are members of the East Pennsylvania Rugby Union, report high numbers of first-year players participating. Recently, Roy Greim asked some members a few questions about the sport and the fall season.

Roy Greim (RG): What is rugby in a nutshell?

Taylor Nation ’14 (TN), member of the men’s team: In rugby, two opposing teams are trying to advance into the other’s goal area (called a try zone), without passing the ball forward. On offense, the team’s backs pass the ball backward to each other, using mismatches and deception to exploit holes in the defense. Every time a player gets tackled, the forwards start a ruck, which is a contest for possession. Whichever team wins the ruck gets an opportunity to move the ball forward. On certain penalties, there’s a scrum, which I believe rugby is most synonymous with. The forwards grab a hold of each other and try to push the other team’s forward pack backwards, so that they’re in possession of the ball. Whichever team wins, keeps trying to get into the try zone.

RG: What made you interested in joining the club? Did you have any experience prior to coming to Swarthmore?

Becky Griest ’15 (BG): I had no experience and had almost no concept of the game. My roommate actually convinced me to join. She had a sister on the team and had heard about all the fun the team has together. The team was so welcoming and supportive, and as a freshman, it was so wonderful to have a group of people to go to, to ask questions to, and have fun with. We have each other’s back. As the season went on, I fell in love with the game itself. It’s empowering, and allows you to work towards a common goal. It’s interesting: one moment you’re doing everything you can to tackle someone, and the next you’re socializing with the other team over a burger.

Aarthi Reddy ’14 (AR), co-president of the women’s team: Honestly, I was coerced into being on the mailing list during the Activities Fair my freshman year. I had no experience playing rugby, and I was already interested in taking a PE class that met at the same time as weekly practices. I decided on Friday of my first week that I’d just give it a try — my roommate had gone to practice and said it was really fun — and I’ve been with the team ever since. As a freshman, the rugby team gave me an opportunity to bond with upperclassmen, who were welcoming and patient, and other freshmen that I never may have met. The community created by this team is something I consistently rely on and I can’t imagine dealing with the challenges of Swarthmore without the knowledge that my team always has my back — on and off the field.

TN: I played football in high school, and even then, a lot of my friends were trying to get me to join the local rugby club. When I got to Swat, I wasn’t really doing anything physical since we didn’t have a football team. I figured rugby was a close second to football, and a great way to stay in shape. Turns out that I was only half right. Though the conditioning aspect of rugby is indeed awesome, I love playing it so much more than I did football. The nice thing about playing rugby at our level is that there isn’t really a lot of experience necessary to start. We’re all learning. It’s a simple game to pick up, and awesome to play.

RG: Are there any misconceptions or negative stereotypes about the sport that you’d like to address?

Pauline Goodson ’14 (PG), Fitness captain: Probably the amount and degree of injuries you receive, as well as what kind of physique you need. The truth is that rugby is actually very safe, if not a little painful and leaves you with a few bruises. There’s not any specific body type we look for when recruiting people because we know any talent can be useful on the field, whether it’s taking opponents down or speeding through them.

AR: Many women believe they have the wrong body type for rugby and this simply isn’t true. Each position on the rugby field is unique and requires different strengths. Of course, the commitment to keeping high fitness levels is incredibly important for everyone but whether you’re big or small or tall or short, if you’re willing to put in the effort, there will be a place for you on the field.

TN: A big misconception is that you can be “too small” to play rugby. Although size doesn’t hurt in any sport, playing rugby really involves more smarts and knowledge than it does size. Odds are if you’re 5’5 125, you’re rarely going to be matched up against a 6’1 forward. You’re going to be out in the back line, where speed and focus are more important. We have had a couple of very small players that turned out to be great tacklers and really big assets to our team.

RG: From what I understand, you have a pretty large group of first-year players this fall. What’s your impression of them and what does this mean for the growth of your sport?

TN: Our first-year players are great! Sam, Razi, Emilio, Rudy, Greg, Omar, Kingston, and the rest of our guys are awesome. They’re showing a lot of talent and love for the game, and it’s going to be great to see them grow up to even better ruggers than they are now. That being said, it would be great to have even more guys come out to play. I would love to see 20, 25 guys out to a practice. If anyone’s interested in playing or knows someone who is, they should come to practice! We meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Cunningham Field and we play games on Saturdays. We look forward to seeing you out there!

PG: It probably means rugby’s here to stay for a while. Our family is expanding and when the veterans graduate, it’s always nice knowing there’s a solid team still ready and eager for the next season. These girls are so fantastic in their readiness to learn something new and I find it obvious that in each and every one of them we have a great addition to the team. More simply, I’m beyond excited to play with them.

AR: Our roster shows we currently have 18 new players, which is unbelievably exciting! Easily the most exciting thing about these new players is the fact that their ages span all four class years. It means that our team isn’t just growing from the bottom-up, but that it’s truly expanding. Barely a year and a half ago, we showed up to matches with 12-13 girls maximum (15 are required to field a team) and the fact that we now have a roster of over 30 women and can field two entire teams, with substitutes, is beyond incredible.

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