Rugby is a poorly-known sport to most Americans. The terms hooker, maul, flanker, grubber and dummy conjure up little more than vague images of an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery.
Yet, to a few enlightened Cal Poly students, those words are part of an almost daily experience. Justin Lucas, a biochemistry senior and the rugby club president, found rugby in high school and said it is the best sport he has ever found.
“Rugby is a fast-paced game with a lot of contact and split decision-making required,” he said. “It has the layout of soccer with the playmaking of football and the vision required of basketball.”
The rugby pitch, or playing field, is roughly 109-by-75 yards. Touchlines, or sidelines, run along the length of the field. When the ball crosses the touchline it is in touch, or out of bounds.
At each end of the pitch are the trylines where the goal posts are located. This is the equivalent to the end zone in football. When the ball is carried or kicked across the tryline and touched down to the ground, a try is scored. A try is the equivalent of a touchdown in football, only it is worth five points.
After scoring a try, the kicker must move the ball out from where the try was scored to attempt a conversion worth two points. The closer to the middle of the try the ball is touched down, the easier the conversion attempt.
Also, at any point in the match, any player can kick the ball through the goal posts for a drop goal worth three points. This is similar to a field goal in football. American rugby rarely relies on the drop goal, but England partly won the 2003 World Cup with exceptional kicking by their flyhalf Johnny Wilkinson.
Head coach of the Cal Poly team, Nick Massman, said one misconception that Americans have about rugby is that it is rough and chaotic.
“It’s a fairly intuitive game. It’s a difficult game and there’s a lot of variables that you have to deal with. Pain is a variable. Fatigue is a variable. And the character of people really comes through in those situations,” Massman said.
Plus, as team captain and construction management senior Ronnie Rosser pointed out, the players face the challenge of learning a new game, a game in which a lot of skill is required because every player has to touch the ball.
There are 15 players filling the eight forward and seven back positions. For example, the flankers are the Nos. 6 and 7 forwards. Their objective is to get the ball and run with it. They also bind together with other forwards in a scrum.
Scrummaging occurs when the ball, shaped like a very round American football, is passed forward or dropped forward, which is called a knock-on. The ball can only be kicked or run forward.
Because play is continuous, and stops only for injuries, scrums are used to restart play after a knock-on or forward pass if the other team does not recover the ball. In the scrum, the two locked together front rows will come together, forming a tunnel into which the scrumhalf, also known as the halfback, throws the ball. The hookers from each team try to block or sweep the ball behind them as the two sides attempt to drive themselves over the ball.
The scrumhalf retrieves the ball at the end of the scrum and passes, runs or kicks it. He or she also retrieves the ball at the base of a ruck or maul.
A ruck forms when a ball carrier is tackled to the ground and the offensive players bind themselves together and attempt to drive the defense away. If defenders are the first to the tackle and are not successfully cleared from the ruck, they have the opportunity to steal the ball and create a turnover.
A maul occurs when the offense takes the ball in to contact, but remains on his or her feet, while their team forms a tight pack surrounding them. Once the maul has formed, the offense attempts to drive the ball forward by pushing against the defense together, similar to in the scrum.
During this time an imaginary offside line prevents all other players from crossing in to the ruck or maul without committing a penalty. Offside lines are also present during lineouts.
When the ball goes out of bounds, the forwards line up in opposition to each other and the hooker throws the ball in. Scrums and lineouts are both called set pieces.
“I’d say the most challenging thing about playing rugby is staying focused to compete at the highest level when you’re tired,” Lucas said. At the end of each 40-minute half, the referee adds the time spent attending injuries.