Discourse / September 23, 2009

Why you should play rugby

What is rugby? It’s a full-contact ball game (think of a bloated football) with 15 players on a side. During 40-minute halves, teams make progress through a series of phases of passing the ball down the field — broken up by tackles. Play is continuous; it does not stop with each tackle or dropped ball, but rather one team either secures or loses the ball through a number of different plays. Everyone plays offense, everyone plays defense. The ball can only be passed backwards or laterally and your only real equipment is a mouth-guard. Points are scored when one enters the tryzone (think endzone, football fans) and physically touches the ball to the ground. Those five points are followed by an attempted kick through uprights for two more. Oh, and sometimes we lift people into the air.

Yes, this stalwart game is at the core of English sports culture and has spread across Europe and beyond. It is now the national sport in New Zealand, South Africa, and Wales. This wondrous sport has even made it to the United States, as long ago as the early 1800s. Though strong on the coasts, rugby continues to grow in the Midwest, too. Over my four years in high school up in Minnesota, I saw my league practically double in size, new teams forming each year.

And finally, this foreign import has found its way to Knox College. Knox’s women’s rugby team was founded in the spring of 2008 and we’ve played both fall and spring seasons ever since. Men on campus, sad to miss out on all the fun, are now at work to establish a men’s side, too.

Which brings me to the point of my piece: YOU SHOULD PLAY RUGBY.

“Who, me?” you may ask, dear reader. And yes, I mean you. Be you the new first year trying to find the niche on campus to make your own, the sophomore who would curiously watch us on your way to dinner last year, or the jaded senior who feels you’ve seen all Knox has to offer — we want you.

The most frequent reason I hear from people shying away from giving rugby a try is that you’ve never played before. Hell, you’ve never even seen a rugby ball, let alone a game. You can’t tell a ruck from a maul, and would probably just be weirded out to see us form a scrum.

To you I say “So what?” You are here on campus to try new things and learn – both inside and outside of the classroom. You took calculus without knowing how to integrate the simplest of equations and/or began studying poetry not at all sure what iambic pentameter really was.

How did you overcome these ignorant woes? You went to class! And so, what is the cure for your dearth of rugby knowledge? You come to practice!

Since founding the team with a high school comrade our freshman year at Knox, we have been the only two players to have any substantial playing experience coming in. Yet, the team endures season to season because people did precisely what you can do now – they came to practice and learned.

Now, you may say “But how do I know if I can play?” I answer you that one of the best aspects of rugby is that there is a position for people of all types. So you’re small and agile? Come play wing for us and dart past people as you breakaway down the field. So you’re big and solid? Come play prop in our scrums and make some mad tackles.

If you come work with us, we’ll work with you.

With all these great reasons to come to rugby, I’m sure some of you are still on the fence. So let me speak briefly of rugby culture. No, I don’t mean the drinking and the sexual innuendo. I mean the tradition in rugby in which after 80 minutes of bruising, stepping on, and struggling against the other team, you come together in a post-game social. Here you eat and converse with the person who an hour ago had their cleats digging into your hip or who you threw to the ground three times in one half. I’ve played other sports, and to socialize with the opponent after would be laughable, so much animosity built up over the game. It is just not so with rugby.

See you on the pitch!


We are a club sport, and practice just three days a week: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 5-6:30 p.m. on Post Lawn. Games are on Saturdays.

I invite you to come and watch a practice, come give it a go. You can even come with us to a match – our first, this upcoming Saturday. If something conflicts with one of the days or overlaps with half of practice – that’s fine. We have players who arrive late, leave early, or have to skip a practice.

Email me if you have questions. Go to YouTube and search “Rugby 101” and watch the best intro to rugby video ever. And then watch all the highlight reels of sick tackles.

Helen Schnoes

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