The arrival of fall means one thing to sports fans: fall ball. New seasons of football, basketball, and soccer begin; club teams start up and Monday nights become game-viewing rituals. However, this time of year also marks the beginning of a sport Americans tragically overlook – rugby.
This year Austin Blacks Coach Lachlan Ferguson will bring Austinite's a chance to get to know more about rugby first-hand with open tryouts for the Austin Rugby Club.
"Americans have such a great sporting culture and this is a way to propel it."
Ferguson doesn't say this simply from personal opinion. With rugby being the second most popular sport in the world, the U.S. is joining in. According to the Centre for the International Business of Sport, U.S. participation has risen 350% since 2004 and is now the most popular club sport on college campuses around the country.
The basics of rugby are simple – invade the other team's territory and get the ball into their end zone. Sounds like football, right? But there is a major difference: players must pass the ball backward in order to move forward. Well this and one other thing:
"It's American football on steroids. You take the helmets and pads off and you run and you don't stop," Ferguson states.
Even if they've never played before, athletes with soccer, basketball, hockey, and football backgrounds have an advantage; they've already developed an eye for transferring the ball and scouting out the defense.
"When college players don't get those big contracts at the end, they just stop. This is an opportunity for them to continue playing and play for a very long time."
Rugby is chock-full of positive benefits. It teaches important values such as team play, humility, and respect for your opponent. There's potential to turn a decent profit and go to the Olympics to represent our country, which (surprisingly enough) has been winning gold medals in the sport since 1924. Playing rugby also provides a great cultural experience since travel is an integral part and players from all over the world connect. The Austin Blacks have toured Europe and plan on doing it again within the next year.
"When players meet they automatically have this connection. It's kind of like a brotherhood," Ferguson assures.
For those who may balk at the idea of trying out because of the fear of broken jaws and/or concussions, fear not; safety education is one of the top priorities for the sport.
Teaching correct body positions for different drills is key. With coach Lachlan teaching these skills they should be well-learned.
"There's a responsibility for coaches not to put players in positions they aren't suitable for. You have to look after the players safety first and foremost," says Lachlan.
Lachlan has been coaching rugby players around the world for more than a decade. The Austin Blacks are ranked fifth in the country under his tutelage and remain undefeated for the past two years. He also currently coaches the St. Edwards University team, a Division 1 school who has risen to be one of the top in the game.
Practices for the Austin Blacks will be held every Tuesday and Thursday night at 7pm on Burr Field. The season officially kicks off January 5 with games every Saturday until May 15.
"It's basically like medieval combat," Ferguson tells me. With such an epic pitch, how can sportsmen resist?
Open tryouts are Tuesday, September 25, 7pm, on Burr Field.
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