Rugby Club Gears Up for Spring Season

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“No one said it better than Winston Churchill: ‘Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen,’” said Southwest Minnesota State University Rugby club co-president Joyce Robinson. “In reality it is a very physical sport that stresses safety as its number one priority.”

Robinson hopes that generating enthusiasm among the SMSU student body for the school’s men’s and women’s rugby clubs will help dispel some of the myths that surround the sport. “It’s a seemingly violent sport and I think people think the ultimate goal is just to hurt each other,” she said.

The sport has had an on-and-off presence at SMSU since the first club was formed in 1978. Numbers of rugby enthusiasts in Minnesota, and the rest of the U.S., are growing yearly, to the surprise of many who perceive the sport to be uniquely foreign. As of 2012, there were 900 college teams and 1200 high school teams associated with the national organization USA Rugby.

Both the men’s and women’s teams at SMSU are made up of gritty, tenacious team players who feel that their strong sense of camaraderie sets their sport apart. “I have never met a person who started playing rugby and didn’t fall in love,” said Robinson.

Love of the sport is crucial for moments when players are faced with the reality of the challenges presented by their “club” status. Robinson recalls March 23, when the men’s team trekked to the pitch to chop ice from the field in order to play. Immediately following the end of winter break the teams begin conditioning to prepare for spring season. “We pride ourselves in playing in anything; snow, rain, 90-plus degrees,” she said.

Although the competitive collegiate season takes place in the fall, the teams consider their spring games to be of equal importance. The spring season gives the teams a chance to stay in peak physical condition and play games against unranked area schools for extra practice.

That practice has been paying off for both the men and the women. Colleges with rugby teams are split into divisions by the NCAA just like any other sport. SMSU is considered a division three school. The men’s team won the Division IIIB championship in 2003, and continues to rank in the top three teams within the division year after year. The women’s team is younger, but is revealing themselves as a force to be reckoned with.  “The biggest obstacle in the way right now is awareness,” said Robinson, who hopes to see both teams work their way up to division one status eventually.

“Rugby has a unique and strong culture that every player is introduced to and it is at least as important as learning the rules,” said Robinson. “The success of the program comes from one thing: love of the sport.”

The both the men’s and women’s teams will be competing in the March Madness Tournament April 6-7 in Wayne, Neb.

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