Talk Little; Play Hard

Rugby, the No. 2 played sport in the world, has grown quickly in Oklahoma without much fanfare.

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Tulsa Rugby Football Club practices at its pitch at 41st Street and Riverside Drive. Photos by Marc Rains

The first rule about rugby is there are no rules, only laws. The basic ones are run forward, pass backward and no blocking, and the referee enforces his or her interpretation of those laws throughout a match.

However, there is much more to this contact sport and its players. It’s like Fight Club: No one talks about it, yet it’s a highly popular game.

“Rugby is the No. 2 sport played worldwide,” says Douglas Neubauer, head coach of the University of Oklahoma’s men’s team. “In the U.S., it is the fastest-growing sport, but it has been in the shadows for years, even though it is played on almost every college campus in every city in the country.”

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Rugby is a fluid game that highlights and relies upon the situational awareness, quick thinking and creativity of players. It has similarities to soccer and football but many differences as well. It’s played year-round and the number of players on the pitch can vary, depending upon the season.

The regular version has 15 ruggers a side playing 40-minute halves; the U.S. season is from September to May. Rugby sevens (seven players per team with 7-minute halves) is played from June to August and is the Olympic version of the game.

The basic laws of the game seem simple, but it takes a certain kind of person to play rugby. Neubauer says the main attribute a person needs to have is “a commitment to improve as a player each day.”

The game doesn’t require any previous experience to play, but Luke Turner, president of Tulsa Rugby Football Club, says key traits that help are perseverance, grit, a willingness to learn and a passion for teamwork.

“Rugby offers its players the chance to be a part of a global sport with an unmatched culture and unlimited opportunities,” Turner says. “If you’re a person with the patience and perseverance to learn a new sport and are willing to work in a team environment, then rugby is a sport that can take you anywhere.

“It doesn’t hurt if you’re big, strong, fast and smart, but we’ll still take you if you can cover the first part.”

The sport may seem male-dominated, but women’s leagues exist, too, with many Oklahoma clubs fielding both men’s and women’s teams. The OKC Crusaders will add a women’s team this fall. American men’s and women’s teams compete regionally and nationally at youth, collegiate and adult levels.

You can find leagues for all sorts of rugby enthusiasts, from youth to collegiate to adult. If you’re interested in catching a rugby match or want to know how to participate, visit playrugbyokc.com, tulsarugbyclub.com or oklahomarugby.org for more information.

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