As a UGA student, everyone knows the names, Stetson Bennett and Brock Bowers. Dawg fans from all over the country will pay hundreds of dollars to cheer them and the rest of the National Championship football team on at Sanford Stadium. While the hype surrounding the team is hard-earned and well-deserved, there are countless other diligent student-athletes who don’t receive nearly as much recognition as they should for their work. Many of these athletes participate in UGA Club Sports, which have weekly free matches year-round. One of these club sports is Rugby, whose men’s team just destroyed Kennesaw State 36-12 last Saturday. You can catch these incredible athletes playing rival LSU at their last home game of the season THIS SATURDAY (10/22) at noon at the UGA Intramural Fields!
You may be thinking, “What even is rugby?”
Similar to American football, rugby is a contact sport that originated in England in the early 1800s. It’s since become very popular across the world but is still primarily associated with European countries. Rugby is truly a universal sport, offering a position for every type of athlete. Whatever one’s height, weight, speed, strength, age, or gender identity, there’s a place for everyone in rugby. You could think of rugby as the ultimate crossroads between football and soccer, but with some extra spice. Rugby matches are played in two 40-minute halves with fifteen players on the field for each team. The basic objective of the game is, like almost all other sports, to gain more points than the other team. Rugby players do this by running the ball and touching it down into the endzone (called a Try) for five points, kicking the ball through the H-shaped goalpost after a try (called a Conversion kick) for two more points, and earning Penalty kicks and Dropped goals that are each worth three points if they make it through the goalposts.
Now, this seems similar to football, but there are some key differences between the two sports. For one, in rugby, players are not allowed to pass the ball forward. When running the ball down the field, a player must pass the ball back to another teammate, so the gain on the play is always from actually running the ball or from a drop kick. Another example is that players are only allowed to tackle the player who’s currently in possession of the ball. Unlike football, where there are strict rules about tackling, a rugby player can grab another player anywhere on their body to tackle them except for their neck and head. Tackling is usually done with one’s shoulders and arms targeting the other player’s legs. And yeah, this is all without pads.
Some other defining qualities of rugby are the types of plays.
First off, an Open play refers to any time during the game when the ball is being passed or kicked between teammates, and all regular rules apply.
A Maul happens when the ball-carrier makes contact with someone from the other team, but they both stay standing (an attempted tackle, for example). After that, players from both teams will get in formation behind the player to compete for the ball. The player who ends up with the ball will turn around to his teammates and pass it on to them. However, if the maul takes too long, the referee will call for a Scrum.
A Scrum is when the eight players on each team, referred to as the forwards, bind together in a specific formation and push against the other team’s formation. The ball is rolled in between the two groups, and players must use their feet to get the ball out of the scrum and onto their side. When that happens, another player — the Scrum-half (aka, the 9) — will pick the ball up from the ground and pass it to one of the backs: a teammate outside of and away from the scrum. A scrum is often called for as a restart after a foul (if the ball is thrown forward, for instance).
A Ruck occurs when the ball-carrier is tackled and falls to the ground. At that moment, the player who tackled the ball-carrier must let go of that player, and the ball-carrier must let go of the ball. Players on either side will then bind together (similar to a scrum formation) and compete to get the ball out and onto their side using their feet. The difference between a ruck and a scrum is that a ruck is faster and less organized. A scrum is set up and called by the referee whereas a ruck must happen on its own within an open play.
Lastly, a Lineout is similar to a jump ball in basketball. This is called by the referee when a player in possession of the ball steps out of bounds, is tackled and pushed out of bounds, or when the ball is kicked out of bounds. Here, the forwards of each team line up (one line for each team) between the 5 and 15-meter lines, and the Hooker (aka the 2) of the team that had possession of the ball before it went out, throws the ball (from just out of bounds) right in between the two lines. Then, the seven players lined up on each team will jump (or, more commonly, one will be lifted by their teammates) to tap the ball over to their side, that is, to their scrum-half. The scrum-half then passes it along to their teammates, entering an open play.
The positions in rugby can get confusing, so let’s go over them.
Typically, there are fifteen players (per team) on the field at a time. The numbers are specific to their position. Numbers 1-8 are called Forwards, and 9-15 are Backs.
Number 1 is called a Loosehead Prop, Number 2 is the Hooker, and Number 3 is the Tighthead Prop. Numbers 4 and 5 are called Second Rows or Locks. Number 6 is the Blindside Flanker, and Number 7 is the Openside Flanker. Number 8 is called…Number 8.
Number 9 is the Scrum-half; we’ve already talked about some of that players’ duties. Number 10 is the Fly-half, and often serves as the kicker. Numbers 12 and 13 are the Inside and Outside Centres. Number 11 is the Left Wing, and Number 14 is the Right Wing. Number 15 is called the Full Back.
While each number has a very specific role, casual watchers really just need to know the positions of the Forwards and Backs players: either gaining possession of the ball (Forwards) or running/kicking the ball down the field once the team has possession (Backs).
Here’s a little recap of all things Rugby (with fun drawings)!
So, what’s so special about Rugby at UGA?
The University of Georgia Rugby Football Club (UGARFC) was established in 1967, making it the oldest club sport on campus and one of the oldest rugby clubs in the South. Since the 60s, UGARFC has thrived, producing many professional players, coaches, and referees. The club is also proud to have, “[fostered] athletic development,” and, “[formed] life-long friendships.”
“The UGARFC has always been a welcoming and inclusive organization with members from [a wide range of] backgrounds possessing an array of personalities and beliefs.”
When I asked the players what they love most about UGARFC, this is what they had to say:
Andrew Gu, an enthusiastic second-year back who also serves as the Equipment Manager, values the artistry of it all.
“What makes UGA Rugby special is how shapeless it is. It’s a blank canvas every time you step onto the field. It becomes a pure art form, with each player contributing the finest details. You can make the strongest and hardest-hitting statements. Your impression of the pitch is that of passionate fire and crashing impact. You can also be the one to conduct the most delicate and flowing masterpieces, slipping through impossible odds with graceful ease and at a breakneck pace. There is room for every interpretation on this canvas. And with every tackle or pass, with every win or loss, you’re building a family. And no matter the race, gender, class, or background, the opportunity is always there to be a part of what makes UGA Rugby so special. It’s a beautiful mess, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
John Rainwater is a highly dependable third-year back who’s currently serving as the Vice President and Recruitment Chair of the Club.
“Rugby is so important to me because it’s provided me with an opportunity to represent the University of Georgia through my athletics. Not only this, but the Rugby Club has offered a brotherhood and some of my closest friends. Rugby allows me to express myself creatively, while also being able to showcase my skills. I truly believe rugby is a sport for all people. It’s a beautiful display of inclusivity, as every body shape/size is important and essential to a team’s success.”
Not only are they renowned for athleticism, academic achievement, and inclusivity, but the team also values philanthropy. UGARFC participates in three community service projects together every semester. Here they all are volunteering at the Bear Hollow Zoo last year!
Jack Madden is an energetic second-year forward who coordinates all of UGARFC’s volunteer opportunities.
“The most important thing about rugby to me is the brotherhood I’ve found with my teammates. It’s not only an outlet for competitiveness and physicality but a place where I’ve met some of my closest friends and had some great experiences. The opportunity I’ve had to serve the club and community as Volunteer Chair has been invaluable as well.”
On top of devoting so much time and effort to their sport and their team, these students are also dedicated to pursuing challenging degrees. Namely, Andrew is a Biomedical Physiology major, John is an Environmental Engineering major, and Jack is a Risk Management and Insurance major at UGA.
So, there you have it! There’s more to UGA than the National Championship Football team. It’s high time these valuable student athletes get some recognition. Grab a lawn chair, a blanket, and all your friends, and come out and support the UGA Rugby Football Club at their last home game of the season THIS SATURDAY (October 22nd) at noon at the IM Fields!