by David Taylor
Every four years the world comes together to witness a tournament that defies human nature, a competition so intensely fraught with danger that most men find themselves wincing with a sharp intake of breath and groaning at the sights of drama and action that will undoubtedly unfold. No, it’s not the new season of Big Brother, it’s the Rugby World Cup!
I’ll be the first to admit that rugby is a little tough to grasp. As a British writer for On Tap, I’ve taken on the responsibility of prepping readers with the ins and outs of rugby, a game my country is very proud of and one my family loves. Set the DVR, because these matches will take place at all hours and you won’t want to miss one.
Why the world cares
For centuries, men (and now women) have taken to the field to display athletic prowess and inhumane courage in a game that we English refer to as a “thug’s game played by gentlemen.” Rugby was reserved for the upper classes until it took center stage as the game to be played if you enjoy having the living daylights beaten out of you each weekend in a pair of inappropriately short shorts and then having a beer—or three—with the guy that gave you a cauliflower ear and broke your nose.
How it’s played
Rugby has a lot of similarities to American football in that the idea is to get the ball into the opposing team’s “end zone” and then kick for a chance to add extra points. But how does Rugby achieve this when they are only allowed to pass the ball backwards? Well, unlike football, rugby is a lot less stop and start. Instead, teams opt for wave after wave of attacks until a gap is found in the defense or the opposition is simply overpowered. In the event of a penalty (of which there are too many to mention), a scrum will form, almost like a first down, with the other getting the “put in” and thus gaining control. As with most sports, the best way to get a hold on it is to watch a game and listen to the commentary.
The Ones to Watch
Each team has a lot of pride on the line for the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand All Blacks, this year’s home team, are powerful and skillful. Don’t miss their “Haka” at the beginning of each match, a Maori war cry performed to intimidate their opponent. Revered as gods in their homeland, expect passion and heart when they run out onto the field.
They don’t come much bigger and stronger than current World Champion Springboks from South Africa. These guys are seriously physical and, when you say that in rugby, it spells trouble. They will bite, scratch and gouge at anything to get their hands on the ball.
The USA will be strong, very well-conditioned and could surprise a lot of people, but they are young on the world stage and their lack of experience will show.
Some top rivalries are England vs. Australia, which is always an epic battle. Ireland vs. South Africa should be high-scoring and seriously brutal. Wales vs. England is always tense, so expect some unruly behavior and penalties (aka, a trip to the “sin bin”). Finally, France vs. ANYONE! The French are physical, skillful, cunning and are always fun to watch.
Despite all the hype of other teams, England is usually the team to beat. Everyone loves to get past England if for nothing more than bragging rights. It’s not that we’re the strongest, fastest or most skilled, but we invented the game and have a great history of winning games that we probably shouldn’t.
If you haven’t liked rugby before, give it another go. You will not see finer play or better-behaved fans. Fans, get your singing voices in tune for national anthems and be sure to buy a stranger a beer. As a wise man once said, “For it is on the field that we earn respect and in the pub that we earn a pint.” That wise man was me.
Rugby World Cup
First match: New Zealand vs. Tonga; Sept. 9, 4:30 a.m. ET.
Last match: Oct. 23, 8 a.m. ET.
Some rugby terminology for the beginner:
- 15’s: The more common version of rugby matches, where each team fields 15 players at a time. 15’s matches are played in fall and spring.
- 7’s: A faster-paced version of 15’s, each team fields 7 players and there is a shorter duration of time per game. 7’s matches are usually played in the summer and in occasional tournaments throughout the year.
- A-side and B-side: Rugby’s version of Varsity and JV.
- Old Boys: Generally 35 years and up, the Old Boys teams provide members an opportunity to keep playing the sport they love.
- RFC: Rugby Football Club
Rugby Chapters in the DC/Metro Area
by Lindsay Fry
With nine clubs in the DC/Metro area, rugby is a dominant presence that continues to grow each year. If you’ve ever thought of joining a team or even just stopping by a local field (a “pitch” in rugby speak) to view a match, here is a rundown on some of the clubs and where they can be found.
The Exiles, who have both Women’s and Men’s teams, practice out of the Boys and Girls Club of Silver Spring (1300 Forest Glen Rd., Silver Spring, MD). Matches are played at Burning Tree Elementary School (7900 Beech Tree Rd., Bethesda, MD). A-side begins at 1p.m. and B-side at 3:30/4 p.m. Stop by on Sept. 10 to see their season opener against Baltimore! Other big events include their Fall Ball on Oct.10 and the Turkey Troy 7’s Tournament on Nov. 19. The Exiles can be found after matches at their sponsor bar, Union Jack’s of Bethesda. For more information on the Exiles, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their website at www.marylandrugby.org.
This powerhouse rugby club in northern Virginia fields Division I Men’s teams, Division I and II Women’s teams and an Old Boys team as well. Practices take place at Oakton High School (2900 Sutton Rd., Vienna, VA) and matches are held at Gravelly Point Park (off of the northbound GW Parkway, just north of Reagan National). NOVA Men’s first home match will be on Sept. 17 against the Pittsburgh Harlequins, and the Women will play Boston on Sept. 3. NOVA is proudly sponsored by The Black Rooster Pub (1919 L St. NW, DC). For those interested in learning more about NOVA Rugby, contact Recruiting Chair Terris Gregory for the Men’s team at email@example.com or Mary Pilger for the Women’s team at firstname.lastname@example.org. NOVA’s Men’s website is www.nova.uspowerrugby.com, and the Women’s website is www.novawrfc.org.
Potomac Athletic Club (PAC)
A founding member of the USA Rugby Super League, a 16-club national competition for elite American rugby clubs, PAC members come from all over the world. They field three sides and, at times, an Old Boys team as well. PAC usually holds its practices and home matches in downtown DC (at the corner of 15th St. and Independence Ave. SW), across the street from the Washington Monument. After matches, PAC members often frequent their sponsor bar, The Bottom Line (1716 I St. NW, DC). More information on PAC can be found at www.pacrugby.com. For those interested in joining, email email@example.com.
Fielding both A and B sides, this team has ranked among top 12 teams in the nation for the past three years. Each spring they host the Annual Capital Women’s Ruggerfest (the largest women’s spring tournament). The Furies practice at Kennedy Recreation Center (1401 7th St. NW, DC) on Wednesdays and Jefferson Jr. High School (G and 7th Streets SW, DC) on Thursdays. Home matches are mostly held at Colmar Manor Community Park at Route 1 and 38th St. in Colmar Manor, MD, but occasionally take place in Frederick, MD. The Furies are sponsored by Nellie’s Sports Bar (900 U St. NW, DC) and Hamilton’s Bar and Grill (233 2nd St. NW, DC). Anyone interested in playing for the Furies can contact Sarah Buhlman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their home website is www.dcfuries.com.
Another founding member of the USA Rugby Super League, Division I , Washington RFC has been around since 1963. They field three sides, an alumni side and annually host the Cherry Blossom Rugby Tournament in the spring. Practices are held at Model Secondary School, on the eastern end of Gallaudet University’s campus. Their home pitch is located at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, MD. Washington RFC is sponsored by The Queen Vic (1205 H St. NE, DC) and Heineken. Prospective players should contact Washington’s Recruiting Director, Connor O’Brien at JoinWRFC@washingtonrugbyclub.org, and include their name, contact information and playing experience. For more information, go to www.washingtonrugbyclub.org.
This Division II Men’s rugby club practices at McKinley Technology High School (151 T St. NE, DC) and holds its matches at Hains Point in East Potomac Park. The Irish are sponsored by both Solly’s U Street Tavern (1942 11th St. NW, DC) and James Hoban’s Irish Restaurant and Bar (1 Dupont Cir. NW, DC). On Nov. 19, they’ll hold their annual Casino Night, complete with food, drinks and gambling. For more information about joining the Irish, contact Captain Phil Dewolf at email@example.com or go to their website at www.washingtonirishrfc.org.
These 2010 runners-up in the Potomac Rugby Union Division III can be found practicing at Cardozo Senior High School (1200 Clifton St. NW, DC), and playing at Colmar Manor Community Park. The Renegades purposefully recruit and retain a team inclusive of men of all identities and cultural backgrounds. Prospective players can speak with current Renegades members at their recruiting tables during Columbia Heights Day and Adams Morgan Day. The Renegades also annually participate in the Pride Parade and Festival in June. Every other year they play in the Mark Bingham Memorial Tournament, an international, non-professional gay rugby union tournament, first held in 2002. The club is sponsored by Duffy’s Irish Pub (2106 Vermont Ave. NW, DC) and Pabst Blue Ribbon. To contact the Renegades, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Washington Renegades’ website is www.dcrugby.com.
This Division III rugby club fields an A-side, B-side and Old Boys team. Based out of Fairfax, VA, they practice at Poplar Tree Park in nearby Chantilly. Matches are held at Lough Field (13731 Old Springhouse Ct., Lovettsville, VA). They encourage men of all shapes and sizes to sign up, and noted to me that a 5’10”, 160-pound man won “Player of the Year” in last year’s International 7’s Tournament. Western Suburbs is sponsored by Fat Tuesday’s in Fairfax, and they’ll kick off their first home match on Sept. 10 against James River. For more information, you can contact Koos Swart at email@example.com or Jeff Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Western Suburbs website is www.rugbyfootball.com.
West Potomac is a Division III Men’s club which practices out of Benning-Stoddert Recreation Center (near the intersection of B St. and E. Capitol St. NE, DC). Matches are played a bit farther away at Accokeek Neighborhood Park in Accokeek, MD. However, team members often frequent their sponsor bars and restaurants 18th Amendment (613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC), Rocklands BBQ (3471 Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA) and Daniel O’Connell’s (112 King St., Alexandria, VA). The first practice for West Potomac will be held on Sept. 30. Prospective players can contact the team via Recruiting Chair David Rogge at email@example.com and check out their website at www.dcrugby.org.