Spring sports have been popping up across Warren County like early daffodil sprouts lulled into bloom by the nice weather and higher temperatures we’ve been experiencing.
Joining the spring crowd this year – last year’s state champions – is the Warren County High School girls rugby team, out for a little scrum practice Tuesday afternoon along with the boys rugby team at Bobby Ray Elementary.
“We have a great group of young athletes out here,” said WCHS girls rugby head coach George Smartt. “I couldn’t ask for any better. They work hard and have a great attitude. I think that’s key in our success, being able to have fun with a sport and winning comes naturally in that environment.”
Coach Johnathan Smith will lead the boys WCHS team as head coach.
Some form of rugby has been around since the days of the Greeks and Romans as they played many types of ballgames using the feet which resembled rugby football. In 1830, running with the ball became popular at Rugby School in England and this Rugby School football moved across the UK in the 1850s and ’60s. In 1865, the British army played a rugby game in Montreal and from that introduction evolved Canadian football.
Rugby went through many changes and developments over the years since being introduced. In the United States, rugby union became gridiron football, although rugby still continued as well. Initially the two sports were very similar in nature but eventually became differentiated through rule changes and the way the game is played.
There are two types of rugby, rugby union and rugby league. Each has a few differences that separate each other. For example the amount of players per team as league has 13 and union 15. Most U.S. teams follow rugby union rules, the WCHS teams included.
The first thing to know about rugby is you can’t throw a forward pass like you can in football. More simply put, the ball cannot travel forward off a player’s hands. The two ways to move the ball forward are kicking or carrying.
The most common term people have heard regarding rugby would be the scrum or the bunch of people who look like they’re fighting for the last item at a Black Friday sale. Actually, it’s an organized pack that binds together, three in front, four in the middle, and one in the back for each team.
Think of a hockey face-off with eight players. The center player, or hooker, on each team has the unenviable task to controlling the ball toward their team’s side. The scrum is called in the case of a foul which would be when the opponent breaks the rules about advancing the ball. The ball is fed into the opposite side of the team which was called for the foul. In most cases, possession is retained by that side but it’s a fight. There are no two ways about it.
Tackling – When one player tackles another there are three rules for the tackler. 1. Don’t tackle around the neck or above. 2. Don’t pile drive an opponent’s head into the ground like you’re spiking a football. 3. Tackle with your hands and shoulders, not just your shoulders.
Ruck – Once the player with the ball has been tackled, they must release it. What’s called a “ruck” is formed and the ball is up for grabs — the two teams have to fight for possession of the ball.
Rules governing the contest for possession often vary referee to referee, but the basics are: stay on your feet, enter the ruck from your side of the field and don’t touch the ball until it’s secured by one team or outside of the ruck.
Put even more simply, it’s a three-player operation and can be done offensively or defensively. Offensively, when a player is tackled his two following teammates form a ruck by pushing forward enough where the ball will come out on their side. Think of a fumble in football and the offense picks it back up but only the player behind the fumbler has a shot, not someone from the side.
A defensive ruck would be the offensive player is tackled and the defenders block their opponents backward and the ball can be picked up by the defense changing position.
Rugby is a fast-paced game that combines elements of endurance like soccer to tough physical contact like football but without all the padding. The rugby scrum is actually one of the most physical moments in sports.
Players move the ball down field by a combination of kicking and passing the ball backward to get into scoring position to the “end zone.”
The goal of every rugby team is to score a “try.” There is an infinite number of ways to score tries, but they all involve crossing the goal line and touching the ball on the ground. One try is worth 5 points, after which the scoring team has the opportunity to kick the ball off the ground for a conversion worth two points.
The difficulty of a conversion depends on where the try scorer touches the ball down. Touch the ball down underneath the uprights and the conversion will be a chip shot.
Score next to the sideline and even good kickers will only make this conversion half the time. The only other way to score is off penalty kicks. A penalty kick is exactly like a conversion, but are awarded after foul play instead of following a try.
The 15 playing positions are broken down into the eight forwards who make up the scrum and the backs as follows: prop (loose head), hooker, prop (tight head), lock, lock, flanker, flanker, number 8, scrum half, outside half or stand-off or fly half, left wing, left center or inside center, right center or outside center, right wing and fullback.
A rugby game is 80 minutes with 40 minute halves and stoppage of time similar to soccer. Draws are allowed but rarely occur.
The WCHS girls rugby team is a popular activity and has over 25 players, enough to almost make two teams. The boys team has just over a full complement.
“We have some outstanding returning players and a lot of interested new members,” Smartt said. “It’s a non-traditional sport where athletes can find a place to compete in a fun environment outside of the mainstream sports. Everyone always has a smile on their face and are a joy to coach. The other day I had a stop to make and when I showed up at practice, the senior players had organized and started already. That’s how dedicated they are.”
The rugby teams are scheduled to begin play in the next two weeks. Learn about upcoming games by following the Southern Standard sports team on Facebook at http://bit.ly/StandardSports