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USF club rugby gets ready for season

While the University of South Florida football team was making headlines across the country last season, another hard-hitting sport on campus was finding success as well: the USF rugby team.

For those less familiar with the emerging popularity of this English sport, rugby can best be described as a combination of soccer, football and wrestling – but without the use of any padding during the course of a game except for a centimeter-thick scrum cap that protects each player’s head.

Last month, the USF men’s rugby football club – lead by team captain Jeffrey Herron – ended a five-year losing streak dating back to 2001. By defeating Embry Riddle with a final score of 12-0 on Dec. 1, the school was named the top university rugby club in the state.

Accomplishing a task of such magnitude was not an easy assignment. After two of the teams’ coaches left to try and start a separate men’s team, the USF Rugby team and its current coaches Gordon Campbell and Mark Muller continued to meet weekly on USF’s Fowler Fields, where they practiced various methods of scoring a try, which is worth five points in the game.

Player substitutions and time-outs are not allowed during a standard rugby match, where each team is given two 40-minute opportunities to successfully carry the ball from one end of the field to the other. The clock stops only between halves, when a penalty is committed or if the ball goes out of bounds.

Like any sport, communication is key in rugby, because like in football, exchanging the ball with fellow teammates depends solely on the administration of a successful lateral pass from player to player.

While the rules of the game give its players much more leniency than the rules of an indoor sport such as basketball, rugby should not be discredited for its demonstration of risk and adventure. For instance, during a game against Florida State University, middle lock Ryan Qay – the team’s vice president – had an on-field collision with a member of the opposing team that resulted in the Seminole becoming a victim of temporary unconsciousness.

After a history of unlucky seasons, the appearance of Campbell and Muller was exactly what the Bulls needed in order to reach their current level of success. As a former member of the St. Petersburg Pelicans, Muller combined his experience with Campbell’s 35 years of play as a native Australian to create an atmosphere of success. Part of the reason for the team’s success has been a change in attitude, evidenced by the team’s acceptance of a credo stating that rugby is a “barbarian sport played by gentlemen.”

Aside from a life dedicated to rugby and academic success at USF, the gentlemen of the men’s rugby team also focus on improving the community. Team money has been annually donated to the Derek Brooks Foundation for underprivileged children since 2005. In addition to performing service for the community, the team members also hold high regard for each other. During the fall of 2007, the men began the tradition of hosting annual golf tournaments that reward each winner with scholarship money that can be used at the teammate’s discretion.

Already attracting a crowd of 50 to 100 fans per match – spectators and competitors alike – the men’s rugby team is always searching for male students who feel they are up to the challenge of pursuing a spot on the team’s roster. If interested, future players can contact Recruitment Chair Nicholas Weaver or join the other fans for an afternoon of rugby at the team’s upcoming home game against Embry Riddle, which takes place Saturday at noon.