Sunday, May 6, 2001
Rugby thrivingTHE BUMPER STICKER says it all: "Rugby players eat their dead." Kitschy. Cool. True, actually. But more on that later.
The simple game is about more
than busting heads, it's about
By C.R. Dudley
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Eschewing protective pads, rugby players tend toward the tough, good ole boy type.
If you decide to give the game a try, your first confused, ball-fumbling moments will get you something it's difficult to find anywhere else -- 40 friends and rights to beers afterwards (or soda if you're so inclined).
"I moved to Hawaii on a Tuesday, went to my first practice on Thursday, played my first game that Saturday and had a whole bunch of new friends just like that," said Hawaii Harlequins Rugby Football Club executive director, Ron Watson.
It's an international cast of friends. The Harlequins boast players from New Zealand, Scotland, Australia, Ireland and Kenya, among other places. Watson, 56, still somewhat encumbered with the Texas drawl he grew up with, has played and coached all over the world.
Web site: http://www.angelfire.com/hi3/HawaiiHarlequins/
E-mail: cowartm001@ hawaii.rr.com
Show up to practice: Thursdays, 7:15 p.m. at Kanewai Park on Dole Street, just east of the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus. Bring shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of cleats. Ask for Ron Watson. He'll get you started correctly.
Other rugby sites:>> http://www.usarugby.org
Rugby, envied by enthusiasts of other sports for its tough reputation, is actually a simple game. It is played on a field, or "pitch," 120 meters long by 50 meters wide (roughly 395 feet by 165 feet). The basic rules are simple. There is no passing forward. The ball can only be advanced while running or kicking.
There are 15 players on each side, eight forwards and seven backs.
After an infraction, the forwards scrum down in that mass of tightly knotted bodies everyone is familiar with; it looks like a big, colorful spider. To score points a player must physically touch the ball to the ground in the end zone, known as a try zone, hence the American "touchdown" in football.
"The hardest thing to learn is to pass the ball properly,'' Watson said. "You pass off your opposite foot and that can be difficult at first. You have to be mobile. It's a quicker game than it used to be."
Rugby has its own natural selection process. It's beginning right now. If you're the type that is actually considering giving the game a try, then you are probably pretty well settled in the mental department for it. It's definitely not a game for the weak, or weak-hearted.
"It can be a hard game in Hawaii," concedes Watson. "There are very few good coaches who will teach players how they're supposed to play, what the rules are, about respect for the game. You've got to play with a good attitude. You don't raise a fist in rugby. It's not a place to come out and be macho."
A rugby player should play because he wants to enjoy the game, not to go beat somebody up. If you do show up to play, expect some good-natured, Scottish accented ribbing from the other players delivered in the "What are you, a bloody poofter?" vein.
"Rugby is a social game,'' said Watson. "The Harlequins have developed into a social sports team. Playing a match is only half the game. The other 50 percent is social. It's really about camaraderie."
Watson is sharing his love of the game with his son, Chris, a 16-year-old Kaiser High School student who plays for the high school league his father started.
At 6-foot-plus and built, well, like a rugby player, Chris Watson looks forward to years of rucking and mauling (controlled madness on the pitch).
"I promised Chris I would send him to Australia for a year after he graduates from high school. They've got a great rugby tradition and lots of scholarships for rugby players down there," Watson said.
According to rugby lore, in 1823, William Web Ellis of Rugby School in England got frustrated with a mud-soaked soccer game, picked the ball up out of the muck and ran with it. In the finest of English traditions the ensuing mayhem was set to rules, thus becoming the game of rugby.
It didn't take long for the infant game to reach the Islands.
"Rugby has been in Hawaii since the late 1800s," Watson said.
With rugby comes a long history of traditional songs, rules of behavior, rules for drinking, deference to the captains, and a deep respect for the game.
Respect for the referee is a given, according to Watson. Unlike other sports where griping about calls and general whining are almost sanctified, in rugby a wrong word to the ref will result in penalties. A wrong word could even cost a team the game if the ref takes his revenge in a crucial moment.
With several hundred players making up seven teams on Oahu, there are plenty of opportunities to give the game a try.
The Harlequins are the only club with a Web site and a published phone number.
As to the accuracy of the saying, "rugby players eat their dead," the 1993 movie "Alive" dramatized the real-life story of an Uruguayan rugby team forced into cannibalism to survive in the Andes. So, rugby players do, or at least did when forced by circumstance, eat their dead.