Rugby on the rise at CSU-Pueblo

Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo athletics
Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo athletics

Four main sports have become a part of life in the United States: football, basketball, baseball and soccer, with soccer being the most recent to make the list; the same four sports are also the most popular at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

However, Rugby Club President Matt Durant said, “in American culture, rugby is following in the same footsteps that soccer has made in the last few years.”

CSU-Pueblo’s rugby team is one of several club sports on campus. This year it consists of 18 players, compared to just 12 in 2013. The team has seen a healthy increase in members with nine freshmen joining the current roster. They are a diverse group of individuals, hailing from Texas to France, coming together here in Colorado with a love of rugby in common.

“Rugby is a fairly simple game,” Durant said. “It’s a mesh of multiple sports.”

Contrary to popular belief, the rules of rugby are pretty basic and easy to understand. The object of the game is to score more points than the other team through a combination of tries or kicks. Tries are worth five points and achieved by downing an egg-shaped ball, slightly larger than a football, in the opposing team’s in-goal area, or end zone using football terminology. This is done by progressively moving the ball up the field.

Durant said, “It is basically a free-for-all.”

Any of the 15 players for each team can carry the ball at any time; his only obstacle is the other team, all trying to tackle the runner with hopes he will go out of play or lose the ball, returning possession to the opposing team.

Kicking is a commodity that only makes an appearance a few times in a game. It can simply be used to pin the opponent near their own goalpost, or it can serve much like kicking a field goal in football or a goal in soccer. Although points are awarded for such a kick, it is usually used as a tactical strategy.

The most important rule of rugby is that the ball can never go backward; it is a constant, gritty fight for a slow progression to the ultimate goal. This parallels the battle the CSU-Pueblo Rugby team faces as it enters its first year in the PacWest Region 4 Small Rugby Conference.

“Although this is the fourth year the team has been around, it is our first year playing as a real team. We went from playing one or two exhibitions last year, to playing a full eight-game schedule with playoffs in 2014,” Durant said.

Such a physical sport that provides no protection: no pads, no helmet, no nothing, should see its share of head or bodily injuries. However, according to Durant, there have been surprisingly few injuries aside from the occasional ankle sprain.

“The thing about rugby is that tackling is all technique; in football, pads allow you to simply run through another player, but rugby forces you to make a technically sound tackle below the chest. That’s why we see less injuries than most would think,” he said.

Durant said, “Rugby and other club sports provide a different experience for college students. You don’t need to be athletic or have all the experience in the world. Certain guys are good at certain things and that’s what we focus on.”

After losing their first game to Red Rocks Community College, the team has an ultimate goal of finishing 4-4 on the season and having a good showing in the playoffs this spring.

CSU-Pueblo is the only team in their conference to still be considered a club sport at their respective school.

“As a newcomer to the conference and the only club team, our goal would be to finish .500 on the season. To play in the championship in Glendale, Colorado, would be our ideal situation, but that’s a long way off,” Durant said.

Spring brings the largest event for the CSU-Pueblo team, as they make their second appearance at an annual tournament, “Battle on the Nebraska Prairie,” in Wayne, Nebraska. The tournament hosts more than 90 rugby teams and  1700 players. The six-street town provides the rare opportunity for the team’s talent to be showcased in front of hundreds of spectators, and for them to be in an environment centered around rugby.

“For now, we’ll take whatever support we can get,” Durant said.