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Rugby culture differs from other sports

April 22, 2015

UW-River Falls men’s and women’s local club rugby culture differs from major U.S. sports in competitive and social aspects.

Rugby is a simple game. It can be played with as little as a uniquely shaped ball, a mouth guard and a bunch of bodies with some shorts.

“Some of us don’t even wear mouth guards,” said Katie Hacker, a UWRF women’s rugby player.

At UWRF, the “ruggers” practice six hours a week and usually eat dinner afterwards. It’s possible for the teams to enter tournaments all year long in the spring, fall and summer.

“Sipping” is the only requirement to play rugby, which is a “fee to play” sanctioned through the Minnesota Rugby Union. The fee allows a member to start playing, but also at its simplest, it’s to indicate an agreement with other players not to sue after being injured on the pitch.

One observation a student might make about the rugby team is their nicknames donned on various apparel. They can be simple as a mash up or shortening of a last name, like “Kuch” for Kuczer.

Robin Moes, a former soccer player of 13 years, joined to stay active after starting college. She claimed it was easy to join but even then, she cited other reasons.

“You have to try everything once,” Moes said. “It’s a totally different bond than any other sport. It’s a very welcoming community.”

The referees, called “sirs,” were described as very knowledgeable and generally high quality, and even friendly enough to be nicknamed, for example, “Macklemore” and “Ryan Lewis.”

Injuries were the predominant topic with Jared “Kuch” Kuczer, a two-year high school rugby veteran and UWRF men’s rugby player. He formerly has had stitches and staples in one situation, but brushed off the harshness and pain of description, and said that broken noses are probably the most common injury in rugby, based on what he’s seen.

“It’s part of the game,” Moes said.

Kuczer said the major difference of on-the-field injuries regarding rugby is clearly indicated in a comparison to soccer, where the players often fake agony for extended periods to sway referees for harsher penalties.

The rugby referees, however, don’t stop play for anything, Kuczer said. If a player is on the other side of the field screaming, but not obstructing the flow of play, the referees will continue to be obligated to call the action.

The increasing difference of pace in referee skill was also discussed. The pace of play starts to increase starting in high school, college, and then the “Selects,” a compilation club.

Hacker said rugby players use the internet to improve their game strategy more than their coach. They have someone trained as a coach, but mostly they work together and call upon other prominent rugby experts to join their practices.

“We’re a self-taught team,” Hacker said.

The men’s rugby team, recently in Nebraska, outscored a team 98-5 over two games. Even if on either side of that situation, every point is fun, according to the group. It’s a chance to exert energy and at times some violence. One method the women’s club uses is a psychological and optimistic one: after every scored point they make sure to shout “zero, zero” to keep the game fresh.

Harrison Tiffany, a men’s rugby player, brought up the international aspect of rugby. The ball itself is recognized by the world, yet Tiffany said: “It’s in its infancy in this country.”

Tiffany told a story about his time spent in Alaska and starting a game with Samoans. They were playing with a ball, Tiffany asked for it, and they began playing a game after that. The language barrier was broken. They spoke through their feet in the pitch instead.

Lopsided teams are sorted out in rugby. Opposing clubs will “even out” the teams and start playing. One team might have 30 players and another five, and they will still figure it out quickly and play instead of forfeiting and forcing a win and loss.