Rugby is Most Recent Sport to Score Big in the United States
This year, King’s College has scored a new sports team. Now fans can cheer for the Monarchs’ rugby team. This follows a trend that has swept the nation over the past several years.
Rugby is the fastest growing sport in America. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, over the past five years, rugby has experienced a 14 percent growth, reaching 1.2 million players of various ages. There are now more than 900 men’s and women’s collegiate rugby programs in the United States.
Rugby’s roots can be traced back to the early 1800s, when a game called “mob football” was a common pastime in Europe. The sport was essentially contact soccer, with the only recorded rules stating that weapons could not be brought onto the field, and the ball could not be thrown by hand.
According to legend, William Webb Ellis, a student at the Rugby Boarding School in 1823, picked up the ball during a game of mob football and ran down the field with it. This caused waves in the sport, with many people supporting the carrying of the ball, as they believed it to be more fun. This version of “carried-ball” mob football would ultimately evolve into the rugby we know today.
Rugby has seen such growth in the United States due to its reputation as a tough sport. It is a fast-paced, full contact game with no timeouts and no commercial breaks. Players are expected to weather the match, because once a player is subbed out, they are not allowed back on the field for the remainder of the game.
While the concept of tackling without protection may seem bizarre to many Americans who are used to seeing football players clad from head to toe in padding, sport and medical professionals suggest that the lack of pads in rugby tends to result in fewer serious injuries.
Players are trained to take greater care with technique, to avoid heads and necks and tackle using their arms and shoulders to “wrap up” an opponent. The game sees its share of bloody noses and black-and-blue marks, but major injuries are reportedly less common than in other contact sports like football.
One feature of rugby that players enjoy is the fact that every player on the field is involved for the whole game. In most U.S. sports, players are highly specialized, as in football, where different players serve as the offense or defense, or baseball, where each player is confined to a section of the field.
“Rugby is unique because all players have the ability to score and all players are vital to the team’s defense,” explains King’s Rugby Head Coach, Jan Kretzschmar. “Everyone has influence on the game.”
Another aspect of rugby that sets it apart from other American sports is the “gentleman’s culture” that comes with it. Showboating is a common occurrence in sports in which an athlete over celebrates his accomplishment, but it is not tolerated in rugby at tackles, scores or wins. Players also address coaches and referees as “sir” or “ma’am.”
“Despite how violent it appears, I didn’t expect it to be such a gentlemen’s sport,” says first-year player Chris Wallenburg, “You really are held to high standards, and it makes the game stand out.”
Despite the aggressive tackling that occurs on the field, rugby players generally display great hospitality and comradery, even with the players of the opposing team.
Vincent Soccoa, a first-year member of the King’s team, summed it up well by saying, “Because we’re such a tight knit group, you know that your teammates will always have your back. You can always trust them to be there for you both on and off the field.”
Rugby is expected to continue flourishing in the U.S. Now fans can tune in to watch rugby on TV. NBC began broadcasting games in 2009. It has also been announced that rugby will be returning to the Olympic Games in 2016, and the United States will be the host nation for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. With these big events coming up and such widespread popularity of the game among Americans, it is safe to say that rugby will soon take the spotlight as one of our mainstream sports.