Author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse once said that all he knew about rules was that two opposing teams try to work a ball down the field and deposit it over a line at the other end, adding that “each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery…which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days (in jail).”
Rugby, most would agree, is a relatively rough sport.
As it turns out, participating in the sport itself may not be half as rough as giving it up.
The Chapel Hill Warriors, the town’s first rugby club for men, is the product of a handful of athletes who simply couldn’t do without – a devoted few for whom the sport has become a passion.
“Rugby’s a life sport,” Warriors coach Rob “Gnome” King said at a practice last Wednesday evening at Chapel Hill’s Scroggs Elementary School. “I know you don’t think of a contact sport as a life sport, but when we were down in Savannah for a recent tournament, there were four teams of 45-plus-year-old players.
“It’s the camaraderie and the friendships. People can come in from any part of the world, but if they play rugby, it can be an underground social network if you need a job or something.”
As a new team, the Warriors are actively recruiting players, coaches, fans, and supporters. From seasoned veterans to absolute beginners or everyone’s welcome to come out to a practice and join in.
The Warriors practice at Scroggs (in the Southern Village community) on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.
With high-quality rugby at the high school level (Chapel Hill Highlanders) and college (UNC), there was no shortage of talented local rugby players in their post-college years, the Warriors’ website ( chapelhillwarriors.org
“I think about five or six of us on the Warriors are alumni of the Highlanders,” club vice president Trevor Caterson said. “I was on the team that went to nationals, and we ended up sixteenth in the nation that year.”
“I played for them back a while ago, around 2005, and (club president) Drew Zabor played for them,” Caterson explained, “then we all went off to universities. I went to the University of Wales where I watched rugby but didn’t play.”
Still, Caterson was immersed in a rugby-crazed atmosphere in Wales.
“I saw Australia play Wales several times at the Millennium Stadium,” he said. “If you’re going to see rugby anywhere, Millennium Stadium, which holds 80,000 Welsh fans, is one of the best places to see it.”
“Then we all came back here,” he continued. “We play touch rugby on Sundays, and then we realized that there were a bunch of us back in town, so we started this up and got it going.”
“I played for four years at Appalachian State,” Zabor said. “When I got done last August, I moved back to Chapel Hill and wanted to keep playing rugby. We already had a good base of players here that played touch, so why not start a team here? We put out fliers, got it up on Facebook, and we spread the word about it to folks who weren’t Highlanders alumni.”First season
After a tune-up match versus the UNC Business Graduate School team in February, winning 41-0, the Warriors kicked off their spring tournament season with a trip to Savannah, Ga., on March 9-10.
“We won two of three games there,” Caterson said, “and the loss was by one point on a penalty kick in the last couple minutes. We also had a couple injuries in the second half, so we were playing with 14 players instead of 15. We still ended up getting fourth place out of eight teams overall.”
The tournament plaque now hangs in Kildare’s Irish Pub in Chapel Hill, King said, proudly.
“Kildare’s is our supporting pub, and we’re going to hang our flag in there along with that first tournament plaque,” he said. “It’s a small plaque, but it’s important.”
The Warriors are also supported by the World Rugby Shop and By Caterson Media.
Next up for the Warriors will be a match versus Southern Pines on March 23, a match with Duke Grads on March 30, and a test against the Virginia RFC in Charlottesville, Va., on April 6.
The Warriors will play in some sevens this summer, Caterson said. “Raleigh and Cape Fear both have a ‘sevens’ tournaments. But this year we just did a social league. By this fall we hope to be Division Three conference registered.”
“The time to really start a team is in August – the beginning of the rugby year,” King said.
During the next few years, the team hopes to establish themselves as a contender for the Division III National Championship as well as a host to some of the East Coast’s premier “sevens” and “fifteens” tournaments, the website stated.
King said the Warriors style will be a mix of northern and southern hemisphere play.
“Southern hemisphere is fast all the time, everywhere,” he explained. “Hard and fast may not make sense all the time though. It may make more sense at times to be strong and patient.
“Southern hemisphere also shares the ball between the pack and the backs very well; with northern hemisphere there’s a little less sharing. I want everyone working the same as a team. If you’ve got 15 players on the field and only eight are doing the work, that’s wasting seven of them.”A focused team
King admitted that the Warriors are still a work-in-progress.
“Our team’s not completed yet,” he said. “We’re still in our infancy; we’re still recruiting. But I’ve never coached a more focused group of guys.”
With players ranging in experience and in age (from 19 years old to mid-40s), King said the team is open to newcomers with a passion to learn to play.
“We don’t have any inexperienced players right now,” he said, “but we welcome inexperienced players.”
“If you’ve ever played before or even if you’ve never played before but maybe played other sports, rugby’s a lot of fun,” Zabor said. “It’s social, it’s fun, and any players can just come and join in. We welcome anyone who really wants to play.”
For more information, prospective players can visit www.chapelhillwarriors.org
In the popular 2009 film “Invictus,” Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) calls rugby “a very rough game, almost as rough as politics.”
But with a bit of political polish and promotion, the Warriors could soon be providing a new athletic option for dozens of athletes who are either just trying rugby or who find playing the sport not half has painful as leaving it behind.