Soccer “is actually quite boring,” explains Matt Reilly of the University of Maryland
men’s rugby club. But “when you get into rugby, it’s exciting. It’s fast-paced. It’s hard-hitting. So I have a love for the game now, and I really wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
As for his disability — he was born without a left hand — Reilly says, “Rugby is just kind of a leveler.”
Of course, when you choose rugby, you also relinquish all realistic hope of future fame and fortune. The best you can hope for might be a fun little post-grad stint on a club team in New Zealand or South Africa, or some other far-flung place where rugby sells.
But then one day, rugby “sevens” — the smaller, faster, seven-a-side version of a game traditionally played with 15 a side — gets chosen as an Olympic sport, beginning in 2016, and NBC, which owns broadcasting rights to the Games in the United States, suddenly gets very interested in rugby.
And all of a sudden, your team, the Terrapins, fresh off an Atlantic Coast Rugby League championship in 15s, is invited to Philadelphia for a national tournament — the 2012 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship — this weekend, with the Team USA national coaches on hand and the whole thing televised nationally by NBC.
“It hasn’t really sunk in that we’re going to be on national TV,” said center John Davis, a sophomore from College Park. “It’s a huge opportunity for us, and for the sport. Hopefully it will be the start of something — maybe [it can] give rugby a higher profile nationally.”
A certain cachet, mystique
As things stand, there’s not much glamour in collegiate rugby. The Terrapins — a club team, which means it is not under the umbrella of the university athletic department — practice on a field at the center of the horseshoe that forms Fraternity Row, and they play most of their games on the intramural Engineering Fields off Route 1.
On a recent Tuesday, players huddled under a tree before practice, wrapping their own thighs — the team having been hit of late by an epidemic of hamstring pulls — and taping their own ankles.
“Rugby can be brutal,” said flyhalf Matias Cima, a sophomore from Bethesda who has been dealing with a strained hamstring since December — an injury that just recently caused him to be dropped from the U.S. under-20 national team. “It takes a toll on your body.”