The other contact sport
USF Rugby captain Jeff Herron (center) and teammate Tommy Willard (9) make a tackle during a game against Florida Atlantic in the USA Rugby Collegiate Quarterfinals. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE
For most college students, exposure to the sport of rugby is limited. Most mainstream media coverage doesn’t go beyond pictures of a horrific injury or people flying through the air.
As the USF Rugby Club enters its 38th season of play, club President James Callihan is recognizing that the limited exposure to the sport has had an effect on bringing new people into the club.
“We understand that not a lot of people have much exposure to the sport,” Callihan said. “It’s a select few throughout the club who have rugby experience before college. This is where most people experience it for the first time.”
The club has a 30-man roster that practices twice a week, focusing on fitness and quick decision-making. In the fall they will play for the Florida Cup, a tournament made up of state university club teams. If the club wins major games against state teams they will play in the spring against schools from outside Florida for a national title.
During the summer, the club stays active by playing in tournaments that are a condensed version of rugby, known as “Eleventh” rugby, where 11 players are on the field for each team instead of the usual 15. It was developed to help players attain better fitness and is played only during the summer. “It brings a different aspect to the game,” Callihan said. “It’s more running and ball handling. It requires a little bit more athleticism as opposed to what we normally play.”
The sport resembles American football with a few differences. Aside from the lack of protective body gear, the main difference is that the ball can’t be thrown forward as the players advance down the field. By passing it behind and to their sides, players attempt to cross a field that is larger than those used in professional soccer. At each end of the field there are uprights identical to those used for field goals in football games.
The objective is to score points in one of three ways. A try, which is worth five points, closely resembles a touchdown in football. A goal, which is worth three points, is scored by kicking the ball through the uprights. After scoring a try, teams kick a conversion worth two points, similar to the extra point in football.
A few other differences are: Rugby is more continuous; like in soccer, they don’t stop after each play. The 15-man squad is on the field for 80 minutes, and only seven players are allowed to be substituted. Once removed from the game, a player may not return. Lastly, unlike football, the outcome of the game is completely on the players’ shoulders. There is too little time during a game – with no timeouts – for the coach to do much from the sidelines. Gordon Campbell coaches the USF team as a volunteer. He played for 37 years, but in the last two he has enjoyed sharing the game with University students.
“It’s great to bring the game to people who have never seen it,” Campbell said. “Rugby is a lot of work. I like to describe it as a combination of soccer and wrestling, so you have to have stamina and strength.”
The team hopes to become a Division I rugby team by the spring of 2009, which would put them up against the likes of Georgia Tech, Clemson, the University of Florida and others. Currently, the team is Division II, but thanks to success in recent years, it’s likely the team will play at the next level soon.
One player helping to bring up the level of play is senior Chase Krobrin. In only his second season with the team he is the only player from Florida to be selected for the South All-Star team. They will compete next week in Rochester, N.Y., against college all-stars from other rugby unions around the country.
“It feels pretty good,” Krobrin said. “I had to get selected from a pool of guys taken from all over the South and put through a four-day camp in Birmingham, so I feel pretty good about it.”
Of all the sports clubs students can get involved with, this one may seem to be dangerous, but according to participants, there’s nothing to worry about.
“People think rugby (is) really violent, and people get injured a lot,” Callihan said. “Truth is, we have less injuries than football and we play more games.”