But sometimes we overlook the sports of other lands, and that’s a shame, because we’re missing out on some amazing games.
I came across one of those sports last Saturday, when I trekked up to Columbia University to watch the New York Knights play the Boston 13s in a game of rugby.
Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the sport (don’ worry, I was one of you just last week), there are two kinds of rugby that are played: Rugby Union and Rugby League. While Rugby Union is the variant you’ll see played more often in Europe, Rugby League is generally more accessible to Americans, as it’s similar to American football. The Knights and 13s play in the American National Rugby League (AMNRL), a league which plays, you guessed it, rugby league.
Like every game, the object in rugby league is score more points than your opponent. Offensive teams get six tackles (think of downs in football) to score. There are a few ways to score. The first is to score a try, worth four points, which happens when the attacking (offensive) team gets the ball over the defense’s try-line. (Think of scoring a touchdown.) However, unlike football, the rugby ball must actually touch the try line. (It’s not enough to just break the plane.)
After scoring a Try, teams can then attempt a place kick for two extra points. (Think of a point-after) However, unlike football, the place kick is attempted from the side of the field where the Try was scored. So if a player scores a try from the far right side of the field, the place kick takes place on the far right side of the field. (Because of this, everyone tries to score in the center of the field.)
So as you can see, it’s not a terribly difficult sport to grasp. However, there are some differences between football and rugby.
In football, an offensive line clears a path for the running back to run through. In rugby, there is no offensive line. If you get the ball, you’re on your own against thirteen angry defensemen.
Also, in rugby there is no down by contact. A play is whistled dead once the attacking player’s ball-carrying arm is on the ground.
Another difference is that there is no forward passing in rugby. If you’re about to get tackled, you can pitch the ball to the closest player behind you.
Differences aside, rugby league is an exciting sport to watch and play. Due to the similarities, a lot of former collegiate football players go on to play rugby after their careers end.
“There are a lot of players who played football in college who just give up after college,” said Knights head coach Guillaume Cieutat. “When they can really come and have success in rugby.”
Knights player Chris Carey was one of those players. Carey, who played football at Columbia, described rugby as the “next logical step” after his collegiate days were over.
However, both Carey and Cieutat noted that not every football player can succeed in football.
“There so much running and so much play time,” Carey said, “that you can’t have big fat linemen.”
Cieutat agreed, but stressed more on coordination and fitness. “Fitness is big for me,” he said. “One minute you can go from tackling to running, to catching, and you have to be fit enough and have good enough hands to adjust.”
The Knights and 13s were both fit enough to put on a spectacular show Saturday night, with each pass, big run, and crushing hit raising the intensity level. Even rugby’s iconic scrum, (which actually occurs very rarely- only after penalties) had high intensity.
And once you get past the differences, you will get to your feet the first time an attacker breaks through the defense for a big run, and you will cringe the when the player finally gets dragged down and flipped to the floor for tackle.
On Saturday, New York did most of the running and tackling. The Knights jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead over the 13s and never looked back, cruising to a 46-30 victory and moving to 4-1 on the season. Carey made the most of his return to his college haunts, and was named man of the match. And while Cieutat was mostly happy with his team’s performance, I came away thrilled.
Folks, if you get a chance to watch a rugby game, do it. You won’t be sorry.
For more information on the New York Knights, visit www.newyorkknightsrugby.com