"Wherever it came from, today's rugby is, at its best, a blend of strategy, strength, speed and instinct. At its least, it is organized and glorious mayhem.
"The object is to, by carrying, passing and kicking the ball, score more points than the other team."
- Whitman College men's rugby website.
To the uninitiated, rugby appears to be a cross between the more-familiar sports of football and soccer with its own set of inexplicable rules.
But to those whose arms and legs blur down the field, tossing and kicking an oval ball, and tackling with seeming abandon ...
It's truly a passion.
Some players say they're hooked by the intensity of the game; others by the physical challenges it presents.
But all agree the strongest allure is camaraderie that comes with membership in an elite group that loves a sport most people know virtually nothing about.
"Rugby is unlike any other," said Matt McMillan, captain of the Whitman College men's Reapers team during a recent practice. The 22-year-old senior from Austin, Texas, competed in New Zealand last spring while studying abroad.
"It asks for a lot of desire from you."
Most "ruggers" play through bumps, bruises and scrapes, but major injuries are rare despite the absence of much protective equipment. "Contact is not as uncontrolled as it looks," McMillan said.
Men's rugby is a true team sport, with specific positions available for all shapes and sizes. Sportsmanship and self-discipline are keys to success, and may be what attracts a certain type of guy.
"He has to have that desire and will to keep running when he doesn't have any gas left in the tank," McMillan said. "Who doesn't mind being David to the other team's Goliath," then getting together afterward to socialize and celebrate their rivalries.
Fernando Garcia finds it's the perfect fit.
Garcia, 18, is a Walla Walla High School senior and member of the Jesters, an under-19 youth rugby club also led by Eric McAlvey, the Reapers' coach whom McMillan describes as unparalleled in the teaching of fundamentals.
"The first day I came (three years ago), I realized this was my sport," said Garcia. "We play as a brotherhood, unlike football and baseball where you're a single star."
Seventeen-year-old Jon Blanc got hooked on the continuous physicality rugby requires, in addition to the sense of family and socializing at the completion of a match.
"We may be enemies on the field, but in the end, we're all friends.
"We just love the sport of rugby."
McAlvey said much of that stems from "the common bond you have with your teammates." Positions on the field and fundamentals of the game require a unified front.
Coming up on his 18th year of playing - and coaching at Whitman since 2001 - McAlvey would love to see more participation locally as popularity explodes in other parts of the state and country. His Reapers' roster numbers about 24; the Jesters' membership is hovering around 11.
The teams practice together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Saturdays set aside for college matches with out-of-town opponents and occasional social games for the youth club.
It's pretty easy to get involved, according to McAlvey. A pair of cleats, a mouth guard, and the ability to run, throw the ball and tackle are the basics.
Newbies also must learn that a field is a "pitch," a score is a "try," and instead of rules there are "laws."
"Rugby is a grand game," McAlvey said. "It's the best game I've ever played, both on and off the pitch. "It's almost like a lifestyle."
Any boy or girl interested in learning more about rugby or joining the Jesters club may call Eric McAlvey at 876-6100 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A History Of The Game
Rugby is a game that shares its earliest history with soccer and American football.
The history of rugby and these other ball games can trace their roots back to ancient England. As early as the 10th century, great mobs would get involved in games of kicking and throwing an inflated pig bladder through town streets and squares. Villages would compete against each other and any means short of murder could be used to get the ball across the goal.
To no one's surprise, such games were frowned upon by ruling authorities. In the 12th and 13th centuries, no fewer than nine European monarchs banned these ball games. The kings weren't so much opposed to the violence and the property destruction, but to the distraction the games caused from military training.
Getting A Hold On The Game Of Rugby
Rugby is a free-flowing game that features a combination of strength, speed and strategy to move a ball into an opponent's territory. Rugby is a full-contact sport, yet players wear little or no protective gear. Rugby evolved from football (i.e. soccer) and is often called the "game played in heaven."
GAME PLAY AND SCORING:
The goal of rugby is to move the ball forward by running with the ball or kicking (during 80 minutes of game time). The team (of 15 players) that scores the most points wins the game.
A match begins with a kickoff from midfield that must travel at least 10 meters. Play is continuous and free-flowing. There are no "downs," no designated offensive and defensive teams, no blocking and no automatic "turnovers" of possession. The ball usually marks the offside line.
The ball may be advanced by running or kicking. Passing with the hands cannot be forward, but can be lateral or backward. Players without the ball - including a player who has just kicked the ball - cannot be tackled or interfered with in any way.
When a player is tackled to the ground, the ball must be released and the player must move away from it; play continues without stopping.
There are four ways in which a team may score points:
- Try - Five points when the ball is touched to the ground ("grounded") in the opponent's end zone.
- Conversion - Two points for a kick through the uprights after a try is scored. The kick is taken on a line (parallel to the touch-line) that passes through the place where the ball was grounded. Therefore, grounding the ball "between the posts" makes for an easier conversion attempt than if the ball is grounded near the sideline.
- Drop Goal - Three points for "drop kicking" the ball through the opponent's uprights at anytime during play.
- Penalty Kick - Three points for place-kicking the ball through the opponent's uprights following an infraction by the opposition. Penalty kicks must be taken from the point of the infraction.