Macalester Rugby – the beloved and unknown

By Jamie Macpherson

Although last Saturday was grey and wet, a small crowd showed up at the stadium to watch Macalester’s men’s rugby team take on Bemidji State University. The men lost 13-0, but generated a level of enthusiasm that caught on in the stands. Amidst the cheering and a few rounds of “Scotland the Brave!” however, was some confusion.”I don’t understand this game, it’s just an excuse to roll around in the mud,” said one fan. “Ohhh, there’s a ball on the field,” said others.

“We don’t have a very wide fan base because people don’t really understand the game,” Captain Curran Hughes ’07 said. “People will go [watch] football even if they don’t understand the game because it’s a part of their culture. If you’re not a part of the culture, it’s kind of a detractor.”

So why go see the rugby team? Because right now, they’re hot.

Although the club sport has been at Mac for over twenty years, with the help of new coach Jaffery Blanks the team started to take off.

“Five years ago, maybe eight guys would show up for practice,” Hughes said. “And most would be drunk. This year we’re skyrocketing. The Bemidji Captain came up to me after the game and was like, ‘You guys have improved so much.'”

“The team is doing very well,” agreed Club Sports Director Vanessa Seljeskog.

“In good rugby, play never stops,” Captain Brian Pouw ’08 said. “You want to be seeing teams that are spread out, and carry the ball well. If they are tackled, the ball [should] get back to your team quickly, to keep the play in motion.”

Pouw, wearing a shirt with the words “Donate blood, play rugby” written on it, defends the aggressive reputation rugby receives. “There’s this general misconception that rugby is more dangerous than football. With rugby you get bruises and cuts, but with football, you get broken bones.I felt more scared playing football than rugby.”

“[Things] happen,” said Hughes. But, he explains, it builds a sense of camaraderie between different teams, as well as within the team itself. The people who tackle you know how much it hurts. “Usually they’ll help you up afterwards. And you don’t see other sports teams partying together after a game, they usually hate each other,” he said.

A sense of unity among the players, Hughes explains, is crucial in a sport that’s so team driven. Unlike in baseball or basketball, rugby can’t rely on a few star players to get the job done. A mediocre team will crush a team with one all-star on it, because the player will just get tackled continuously.

Rugby at Macalester is a club sport, which means that there is no recruiting, and they are not economically backed by the school the way varsity sports are. This gives the team the option of playing competitively, without having to comply with the NCAA’s rules or having to hold practices everyday.

This doesn’t mean that the ruggers are slackers, however, Pouw said. “We started practice in February, with snow up to our knees. And we practiced in the storm in March. You just have to have the right mindset.”

Ruggers need to have the right mindset to be tackled multiple times during a game. They need to have the mentality to run head on into the other team, knowing it will hurt the other team more.

“It’s addicting,” said Hughes “You don’t notice what’s going on around you, and you get this rush.”

“We just love playing, and we want to share our passion,” Pouw said. “We want people to come out and experience [the games]. If people come out, they’ll go ‘Oh this is cool,’ and there will be people who can explain [the rules] to them.”

The men’s next game is this Saturday at 2:00 pm against rival Carleton College. They take on the Twin Cities Mayhem April 14 at 7:00 pm.