The weather was far from ideal last Friday when a group of 30-odd student-athletes braced the bristling wind chills of an early-spring night at Cary Street Field. But members of VCU’s club rugby team are used to practicing in these conditions.
Some students were out hemorrhaging their livers at bars or parties last Friday night. Others used the time to decompress after a challenging week filled with textbooks and lectures. For the rugby boys, however, it was time to prepare for a trip to Norfolk, where Old Dominion University hosted a tournament the next day.
Twelve teams competed in the invitational last Saturday, including VCU’s first and second teams. The first team placed fourth in the tournament, falling 28-14 against North Carolina State, a team which had been to the national club tournament just a year earlier.
The club’s climb from a winless season in 2016 has been remarkably swift. The team finished the fall 2017 season with a 5-2-2 record, and made it to the semifinals of the Cardinals Collegiate Rugby Conference tournament, losing to eventual champions Virginia Military Institute.
“Last summer, we said we want to be a good team in the fall,” said club president and junior Scotty Orrock. “We lifted and ran all summer and we finished the best we have since I’ve been here.”
Like most Americans, an overwhelming majority of members of VCU’s club team knew little about Rugby before joining the team.
Despite its optical similarities to American Football, the sport doesn’t get the same fanfare in the United States as it does around the world — in countries like South Africa, England and Australia.
Like pretty much all sports, the aim is to score more points than your opponents. You can run with the ball, kick it, tackle an opponent with it, or throw it to a teammate — so long as you don’t pass forward. The game’s unpredictability has earned it the description of “controlled chaos” among members of VCU’s team.
It mixes the physicality of football with the conditioning of basketball and soccer, Orrock said.
“It is so much fun,” said Sean Boyce, a senior. “It is so much freaking fun.”
The game’s intensity is what drew Boyce to it. He joined the club after playing football in high school. Although he suffered a concussion last season, Boyce swears rugby is less likely to leave a player injured than football because of a key difference between the sports.
“The biggest difference between football and rugby is the pads in football which give a false sense of security,” Boyce said. “With the right technique, the tackling in the sport can leave a player with a few bumps and bruises after a game — but not injured.”
For guys like Laith Sanjak, a junior who majors in mass communications, the game’s challenges — both physical and mental — provide an edge for when life presents its own.
“In rugby when something happens you have to adapt to it,” Sanjak said. “Sometimes you have to get out there and keep moving forward after you mess up and after you know you’re behind.”
Sanjak and others share a bevy of these off-the-field experiences with their teammates, with whom they are constantly spending their down-time with. It’s not unusual for the boys to be gathered together hanging out at a teammates house on a weeknight. It’s equally as ordinary for them to be studying together at Cabell Library.
“I love playing and hanging out with these boys,” Sanjak said. “It’s definitely a brotherhood for me.”
Fadel Allassan, Managing Editor