15s, 7s… What do these numbers mean??

First, you have to understand something: my father is a born and bred Hoosier. A basketball man, if you will, happy when the Hoosiers and Bulldogs win, and, strangely enough, a Green Bay Packers fan (I blame it on the year he was born.) Don’t get me wrong; he definitely cheers for the Colts! He is a Butler grad, and when Butler made it to the NCAA Final Four in 2010, my dad and I went to the national semifinal game together. We arrived at least an hour before everyone else, sat peacefully in our seats while he read a paperback book he’d brought, and I tried to soak it all in (I am a Hoosier after all, and thus a basketball fan). It was the game of our lives, and an experience I will never forget.

Rugby? It’s a five-letter word, a European sport that my son and daughter play, and we’re all desperately trying to understand. My parents try to make it to at least one match during the season, crazy Indiana weather permitting. And I try to answer questions to the best of my ability, my husband often providing a better, more detailed response than me. And we all go home after the match, one of us exhausted from actually playing the sport, the rest of us exhausted from concentrating so hard on what was happening on the field.

So, imagine my surprise when my father announced to me last Sunday that HE HAD WATCHED RUGBY ON TV! All by himself! And I hadn’t even told him about it! He said he’d watched rugby so that he could try to understand what it was, but it seemed different than the version he’d seen my kids play. We figured out that he had seen rugby 7s. We started to talk about what 7s was and how it was different from what he had previously seen. It’s probably one of the easier aspects of rugby, but to a person conditioned to 5-on-5 basketball and 11-man football teams on a consistent basis, it can be confusing to see terms like 15s, 7s and even 10s, all in one “season”.

And I figured, if my dad is watching this on television, trying to comprehend all this beautiful sport entails, I can only imagine that the rest of us parents are doing the same! Here is my attempt to simplify the mystery behind the numbers of rugby.

The form of rugby we know here in the states and as we have seen it played “across the pond” is 15s. I will admit freely to you that it took me a really long time to figure this out, but 15s means simply that there are 15 people on the field for each team. Football has 11 players; rugby has 15. This is the form of rugby with the spider-looking “scrum” – the tackle “thing” you often see where the players are huddled together with arms linked and heads down, the entire scrum resembling a living being, moving on its own accord. (What took me even longer to understand was that the imaginary line that splits the middle of the scrum, dividing the teams, is the scrimmage line. But a topic for another day!)

Sometimes, and I’m not sure why, on occasion, you will see a rugby match of 10s. This means, you guessed it, 10 players for each team on the field. I have never seen a 10s game live and in person, but I am aware that they exist!

Rugby 7s consists of two teams playing with 7 players on the field each. With only 7 players, not 15, using the same size field, you can imagine that this is a faster game. A rugby 7s match has 10-minute halves, much less than a rugby 15s game (note that the times for the halves can vary depending upon the age of the players). The players are constantly running/sprinting, and the scores can actually be quite high even with the shorter playing time. This is the rugby event you will see in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio!

Right now, the USA Eagles and Lady Eagles are active in 7s tournaments, while the USA Rugby College National Championships (15s) are just finishing up in the various divisions. Coming up in early June is the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia, an invitational event that will comprise not only college teams, but a separate high school event as well. The USA Rugby College National Championships for Men’s and Women’s 7s is November 23-24, 2013. (Thank you to Tam Breckenridge of USA Rugby for clarifying!)

That doesn’t seem so confusing, does it?

Life Lessons in Losing

I really dislike the word “lose”, especially in the world of rugby. I have a hard time saying that a group of boys or girls who play their hearts out on the pitch, diving for tackles and balls and sprinting faster than they thought possible, are losers. Maybe with the score. But not in life. And this week has been a week of winning in life while being on the losing end of the score.

It’s state championship time in Indiana, as it is in many states, and our school had both its boy and girl clubs involved in very competitive playoff matches. Our Varsity and Junior Varsity boys traveled a long distance to play tough teams, and lost hard fought matches. The Varsity score didn’t match the heart and sweat left on the field, but it was inversely proportional to the anguish felt by each of the boys after the game. The Junior Varsity game was a close contest, with both teams going back and forth down the field. Our girls also lost a very competitive match, trying so hard and playing with such intensity. It was a week of hugs given to allay the sadness of defeat.

But here’s where we found the winning parts of life….we found it in the Varsity guys who cheered on their JV teammates during their match. Defeated, tired, and hungry, they could have sulked off to a corner of the field to nurse their wounds. Instead, they showed character and commitment to their team – standing on the sidelines, shouting instructions almost louder than our coach. They cheered the proverbial school initials, clapping in rhythm as one. When the play stopped and there was an opportunity for a water break, juniors and seniors took the cue and ran with water as though their lives depended on it. One of our guys was a Touch Judge for the JV game. It was one of the most emotional, loudest games we’ve had in a long time!

We found it in our girls….our girls team had a good shot at going to the state championship semifinals, and possibly even winning. It wasn’t meant to be. There were tears afterward as the team and coaches gathered together, and wonderful words of thanks and encouragement were shared by all. The coaches had tears, the players had tears, and no one wanted the moment to end. The visiting team was jubilant in victory! They were outnumbered by our team, but they didn’t play like it. And of course, at the end of the match we had our social. With admitted heavy hearts for some of us parents (we are human), we made sure the social was ready to go for all the girls. And they were great. After a time, the two teams came over to the tables of food, loaded their plates, and sat on the picnic tables for fellowship. Two opposing teams, who’d just played a hard-fought contest, able to sit together and share a meal. This is rugby.

We found it in an opponent’s father and his daughter….after our girls playoff match, a few of us parents were huddled together, trying to cheer each other up. A father of one of the girls on the opposing team found our group, and thanked us for the food. He said that his daughter had just been confirmed that morning, and they had hustled over to the game. This was her first year of rugby (and his!), and she loved it! He was beaming as he talked about how much she loved the sport; how could we not love this new member of our sport family? I saw him this weekend at our state tournament, and he was still smiling.

And we found it in another opposing parent, a mom who was putting on the social for our boys playoff match. As I walked slowly across the field, carrying a bag and shirt left behind, a few water bottles from the field, and my own purse and camera, this kind woman offered me a brownie. Bless her!!! Chocolate always helps! And we found it in two of our girl rugby players who attended the boys match, as they willingly gathered all the used water bottles on our side and disposed of them properly.

As I watched the girls teams play in the state tournament today, I found myself pulling for all of them. Three excellent matches, three teams on the losing end at some point, with one team winning it all. At the end of the final match, the runners-up were lined up on the field, and the champions lined up right next to them creating a long line of ruggers. A girl from the championship team lined up next to a runner-up team member, and put her arm around her fellow rugger. A member of the state runner-up team was awarded the Most Valuable Player award, and she cried. Her teammates were so happy for her, they forgot their sad tears and ran to their honored teammate for a giant hugging celebration. And the winning team? Another giant hugging celebration and tears of joy! Three score losers, one score winner, and four winners in life.

It was a good rugby day.

The Rugby Social!

At my first rugby match, I saw grills going, burgers and brats being prepared, and I thought, “Wow!”  I have hit the jackpot and discovered the sport with the best concession stand!  Ooops… at the next match, I discovered my mistake:  the food was for the players, coaches and referees, not the fans.  A quick trip to McDonald’s solved my food problem for my girls.

One of the best things about rugby is that after the match, no matter how hard it was or who won, the home team hosts a “social”.  They provide drinks, snacks, food, etc. to both teams, home and guest.  Following proper etiquette, the guest team is served first.

Parents new to rugby might be overwhelmed by this thought of having to prepare food for perhaps as many as 90-100 people on an evening or weekend day.  Some parents sign up for rugby and have no idea there is something called a social.  For parents who are new, it is the job of the coaches and veteran parents to teach the newbies about the peripheral aspects of the sport.

Here is our very simple setup for drinks and light snacks after our playoff match.

Here is our very simple setup for drinks and light snacks after our playoff match.

For a social, our team provides drinks; a “main” course – hotdogs, sub sandwiches, etc.; fruit – bananas (great for after rugby matches), oranges/Clementines, grapes, apples, watermelon; veggies – carrots; protein bars of some sort; and, of course, cookies.  After a tough match on the pitch, these kids deserve a cookie!

We’ve found that cutting bananas in half makes them much more appealing.  I don’t know why, but an entire banana is somehow intimidating!  Coring and cutting apples also helps – they’re easier to eat and more appealing (again, not an entire apple, lol); if you have oranges, cutting those also helps.  After the kids fill their plates and find a seat, we often go around with our extra fruit and encourage them to take more :).

Our boys coach this year came up with a brilliant idea:  each home game is assigned 1-2 Food Coordinators who are responsible for deciding the main course, and compiling an email to send to all the parents requesting the sides.  Our parents have truly stepped up and we have had absolutely no problem fulfilling these needs.  Each home game also has 3-4 Food Helpers who assist the Food Coordinators helping to prepare the tables with the food, getting the drinks and fruit ready, and making sure the main course is ready to go on time.  The Food Coordinators generally check with the coaches of the teams to find out when they would like their first match players to eat, usually after the first match for players that have played, but that could be different for some coaches.

Another mom and I met this year for our girls team and came up with the “Master Rugby Food Tub” – if we tried, we could probably come up with another name for this, lol!  Here’s what we decided should go in it, as well as things you should have at every home game:

Paper plates, napkins, wet wipes (for dirty rugby hands) and maybe hand sanitizer – if I am in the food line, I don’t let kids take a plate until they take a wipe!  The girls LOVE the wipes, and most of the boys, but not surprisingly, they are more apt to insist they don’t need one.  I think otherwise. 🙂

Paper towels, couple of dry towels (for rainy days), plastic knives/forks/spoons – you never know

Cutting board/knife, cheap plastic serving bowls, plastic tablecloths, trash bags (4 large per game)

Tongs and plastic scoopers (i.e., for little things like Chex Mix or Goldfish)

In addition, for each home match, you will need tables and possibly a tent, especially if there is a chance of rain.  Think “camping” when you prepare for these socials, and you’ll be fine!

The best part of the social is that the kids get an opportunity to have fellowship after a tough rugby match.  Rugby is physical, and it’s such a joy to see them talking with each other, often kids from different teams, after the game.  Parents also mingle, and this past Sunday, after a very tough playoff loss for our girls, our girls’ parents had the pleasure of meeting a father from the opposing school whose daughter had just been confirmed in the morning at church.  He was new to rugby, and was truly enjoying all aspects of it.  I got to chat with a friend in the sport, even got a hug from him as he was on the sidelines, coaching his team (our opponent) AND touch judging at the same time (more on touch judging later).

That, my friends, is the beauty and blessing of this sport!

Rugby in Indiana

Spring in Indiana means we Hoosiers come out of the basketball arenas and yearn for the roar of engines at 16th and Georgetown.  We dust off our mitts and bats, clean up our bicycles, buy fresh tennis balls, and … grab a rugby ball and run off to the pitch! ??  What?  Rugby in Indiana?   More and more, yes!  A state known for basketball and race cars is also making a mark for itself with the unique sport of rugby.  A longtime favorite of Europe, South Africa, Australia, and other nations, rugby is a fairly new spectator sport in the U.S. and is making waves in my great state of Indiana.

While most American probably view rugby as “football without pads”, it really is more and less of that at the same time.  Rugby tackling is different than football tackling; it’s non-stop, more like soccer or hockey; and anyone can run with the ball.  Rugby is a running, standing, gentlemen’s game with intricate rules (just ask a referee to explain “Advantage”).  The essential rules you need to know to avoid the “deer in the headlights” look common to new rugby fans are these:

Players pass the ball backwards – no forward passes are allowed

Players may kick the ball forward at any time

Players earn a “Try” by placing the ball on the ground past the goal line, and a Try is worth 5 points.

Extra point kicks after a Try are worth 2 points; and if you ever see a team just kick the ball through the goal posts without having scored a Try, that’s 3 points.

Most rugby pitches do not have scoreboards, and today I learned that our team scored kind of in the fashion of the wave you see at stadiums – our coaches clapped, our kids clapped, then it spread over to the parents and we clapped!  It is a challenge to keep up with the score with the lack of a scoreboard and the unusual scoring system!

If you get a chance, check out http://www.rugbyindiana.com, and find a local rugby match near you.  With over 30 high schools offering Club Rugby, you have a shot at finding a match nearby.  Also up and coming are high school girls teams (we have 12 in Indiana) and youth teams, both tackle and non-tackle.  Non-tackle youth rugby, according to Rugby Indiana, has grown over 200%!

If you or someone you know has played rugby, offer to help a local club, learn how to become a referee, or better yet, help to start a team!  Your expertise and knowledge are needed and greatly appreciated!