Rutgers rugby team perseveres despite hardships
Football may be dominating the interest of sports lovers at Rutgers for the time being, but it originated from a sport growing here at the University called rugby.
Rugby is a constant contact sport without time-outs or breaks for 80 minutes, separated into 40-minute halves, said team president Brian Cunningham. Only injuries and penalties can stop the game.
Cunningham, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the team originated 45 years ago and began playing ball in the grass on Cook/Douglass campus.
Rugby has since grown into a competitive collegiate sport, said Sal Fogarino, the team’s captain. The team plays on the turf fields on Busch Campus and at many universities across the country.
Rutgers plays in the Empire Conference, which consists of schools such as Syracuse University, University of Buffalo, Binghamton and Stony Brook University.
“We practice two days a week, we have one day of lifting and one day of conditioning. Then we usually have games on weekends where we travel and sometimes are gone for the whole weekend,” Cunningham said.
The team is divided up into a Division I squad, with A and B sides, and a Division III squad for developing and learning the game. The team consists of a total of 60 players, but only 22 dress at matches and only 15 players are on the field at a time, Cunningham said.
“The level we play at and the teams we play against [are] considered varsity level,” Cunningham said.
Fogarino, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said the team determines who can dress by who is most qualified for each position and who can get up the quickest after the opposition knocks them down.
“It’s a game of possession. When you get tackled, you need to fall so that you can give the ball to someone on your team and keep possession,” Fogarino said.
The ball moves laterally in rugby, and the objective is like any other sport — to score a goal, Cunningham said.
To score a goal, or “try,” one must run into the other team’s try zone and touch the ball to the ground, Fogarino said.
Fogarino said one of the best parts of playing is scoring a try.
“It takes more energy to touch the ball down, it’s like a big exclamation point,” Fogarino said.
The game is extremely physical, and requires a lot of contact. Team member Tyler Kazio said the sport is like a combination of football and soccer, but much more exhausting than both.
“There is basically a tackle every second of the game. There is no stopping. Once you get tackled, you just have to get back up and continue with the play,” said Kazio, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
When the defense tackles the ball carrier, it is known as a “ruck.” Two or three members of the ball carrier’s team will jump on top of the downed player to keep the defense away from the ball, which is up for any player to take, Kazio said.
This type of activity causes a great deal of injuries for rugby players, which have hurt the team this season, Fogarino said.
“In the first three weeks of the season, we lost five players due to injuries, so we’ve had to throw in a lot of new players,” Cunningham said.
When starters get hurt, the team has no choice but to throw in newer, inexperienced players, which can lead to even more injuries.
“One game we had against Buffalo, a ton of people went down. We put someone in who never played rugby in his life before playing for us. He was in for 33 seconds before we heard a loud ‘pop’ and he was knocked out,” Kazio said.
Cunningham said although this season has been rough, he sees a bright future for the team.
“We have a very young team, which means we will only improve,” Cunningham said.
Rookies on the team do activities to get to know the returning veterans, and the players make a point to have a strong bond with players in their class, he said. Some players even get tattoos of the team crest to show their commitment to the team.
“I have the crest tattooed on my thigh. It’s a commitment for life. I’ll always remember Rutgers rugby,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the tattoo is not a requirement for players, but many of his teammates in their second or third years on the team wind up getting the tattoo.
The players’ dedication is what will allow the sport to keep growing in this country, Cunningham said. At Rutgers, the team schedules its classes around practices and games and takes overnight trips to play games.
“The guys who come out and are members of this squad really sacrifice a lot to play,” he said.