Short and violent, that’s how I would describe it.
Rugby was something I played only briefly, in college on an intramural team, but then, For an American growing up in Northern California in the 1970s and early 80s, that wasn’t unusual at all. We played American football, baseball, basketball, and a few other miscellaneous and manly sports like track and wrestling. Soccer, it should be noted, was a sport for foreigners and girls, not something that an American of my generation would have taken seriously, in fact, something that an American of my generation would have mocked, and did mock, mercilessly.
Rugby, however, was another matter. Of all the foreign sports we knew about, Rugby was the only one sufficiently violent enough to appeal to our primal desire to smash another human in the teeth, all in the name of good fun. So, I joined an intramural rugby team my sophomore year of college.
It was a disaster.
In the first place, only three of the fifteen players on our team had ever really played the sport before, an Irish exchange student, and two Anglophilic Americans who had lived in the UK, one for only a single semester in a study abroad program.
In the second place, the rest of us had played high school football, but not college football, which meant that we saw rugby not an organized sport with rules and coherent plays, but only as an outlet for all of the violence and testosterone that had built up since we had left the gridiron behind.
And so, despite the best efforts of our lone Irishman and two England-loving wankers, ours was an unorthodox and dangerous style of play; rugby with downfield blocking and below-the-waist tackling, with blind-side hits and illegal chop blocks. And that was just in practice. The bad news was that none of the other intramural teams we played were any different, a smattering of real rugby players of low ability, and a heaping of thugggish American twenty-year-olds who delighted in knocking each other down in the most dangerous way possible.
I was lucky I didn’t break a leg, or fracture my skull, and looking back on it now, at the distance of thirty years, I know I should have stayed with flag football. But those were simpler, stupider times, and we didn’t know just how dangerous things were, and we loved every minute of it.
(Image courtesy of Tony Pryce Sports.)