WSU men’s club rugby: A year-round affair


A member of the WSU men’s club rugby team tries to elude a defender in a practice scrimmage at Valley Playfields on Feb. 10, 2014.

NICK THOMAS | Evergreen reporter

When one hears the word rugby, the image of a broken bone, an open gash and a bloody face oftentimes come to mind.

For members of the WSU men’s rugby club team, the allure of competing in collegiate athletics drew them to seek out experience in a new, high-intensity contact sport.

“It’s like soccer with contact,” WSU men’s rugby Head Coach Asa Brown said.

Rugby is often thought of as a brutal sport, likened in the United States to ‘football without pads.’ While the two sports have their similarities, they have one major difference; a rugby match has no stoppage of clock.

A match contested under Rugby Union rules has 15 players on the pitch, is 80 minutes long and consists of two continuous 40 minute halves. There is a constant battle between the offensive team and the defensive wall set up by their opponents. The sport becomes quite physical under these rules, which is a draw for potential players.

“I wanted to keep doing contact sports when I got to college,” senior forward Neal Tilbury said.

This led Tilbury to seek out the WSU men’s rugby head coach and come out for a practice, after which Tilbury said he fell in love with the sport and has been playing ever since.

Love of the sport is a relevant theme in WSU rugby. Anyone who has been part of a sports team in their life understands and relates to the bond between the individual and their teammates. WSU rugby is no different.

When asked about the best parts of playing rugby for WSU, Tilbury cited the family atmosphere generated in the team’s community, not just on the field but off it as well.

One skill that Brown said he is adamant every rugby player needs is the ability to communicate. From observations made in practice, it is easy to see that coherence is key when playing, especially on defense.

The goal for defense is to make as much of a wall as possible, with all 15 guys working together to prevent the opposing offense from moving the ball up the field and scoring. It is easy to see how a family atmosphere embraced by the team benefits the players both as individuals and as rugby players.

The Cougars play in the Northwest College Rugby Conference (NCRC), and participate in both a full 15-a-side (players per team) season and a seven-a-side season. The conference includes notable teams such as the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Western Washington University and the University of Washington.

The team plays two separate seasons in order to maximize its training and practice time. After the 15-a-side season in the NCRC concludes, players need a way to stay in shape and keep up or improve upon their individual skills. This led to the birth of the seven-a-side competition.

According to senior fly-half Sean Grim, WSU is stronger this season, having made past appearances in the Pac-12 Tournament and conference finals, but the team is working hard to perform just as well in the 15-a-side season.

As fans, whether it’s seven’s or 15’s, the game is guaranteed to be exciting.

“The most exciting part of a game is never knowing how the other team is (going to) work,” Grim said.

From the perspective of a player, this entails making decisions on the move, trying to dismantle the defense in the most efficient way possible. For fans, no two games will look the same. There is always the chance for a new tactic to appear or a different way to exploit a defense.

WSU men’s rugby club is a student-run club sport, and no experience is required to get involved.

The team will be playing in a seven-a-side tournament on Sept. 17 at the University of Idaho.