The rain is pouring as 30 uniformed boys scrum on the pitch with one last desperate attempt to score a try before the sir blows the whistle. For the average student, the above statement may be quite perplexing. However, for five Benilde-St. Margaret’s junior boys, this is what consumes their Fridays nights. Rugby, although traditionally from England, has found a place in the hearts of some Minnesota boys.
While most boys gain interest in sports like football or hockey from peers, siblings, or from the media, these boys discovered rugby in a different way. Last year, junior Ben Sauer heard about playing rugby from a close friend. “My friend’s dad is from Australia and he was a rugby player over there. He coached for a Plymouth team so I started playing for their U-16 team last year.” Immediately Ben loved the sport which was apparent to his other friends who joined because of him this year. Although primarily football players, BSM juniors Tim Slater, Craig Shaver, Drew Breyer, and Zack Arostegui found enjoyment in this sport as well. “It gives us an opportunity to hit kids when its not football season,” said Craig Shaver.
Since February, these junior boys have been practicing, first in the Plymouth dome, and then outside due to the weather. Their team, the Plymouth Panthers, practices “twice a week with games on Fridays,” said Shaver. Yet, Fridays are the most anticipated days for this group of guys.
Win or lose this rugby team’s bond remains strong.”I really like the players on my team and our coach,” said Arostegui. With a team composed of a native Argentinean, a Canadian, others from around the Wayzata, Plymouth, Osseo area, and another teammate originally from Portugal, the thought of team unity would seem unlikely. However, Shaver, Breyer, Sauer, Slater, and Arostegui take part in team bonding. “On some Fridays, we get together at our teammate named Santiago’s house and eat enpanadas, or Argentine tacos,” said Shaver. Other than enpanada night, the guys often will “just hang out on the weekend,” said Sauer.
Playing the Game
With a heavy drizzle blanketing the field, 30 teenage guys clad in small shorts and tight jerseys take the Mound-West Tonka 100 meter pitch (field). It’s game night for the U-19 and U-17 rugby players which guarantees seventy minutes of line outs, scrums, and tries. Since the majority of the fans in the stands are clueless about this English sport, an announcer clears the confusion with an explanation of rugby terms as he provides play-by-play commentary.
The game begins with a kickoff. The ball is pursued by both teams, since either can have possession at this point. There is no blocking, and no downs, so the play is continuous. A small Panther player catches the ball and runs it forward, swiftly passing it backwards to Tim Slater as he runs into a mob of opposing team members. The play is continuous even when Tim Slater is suddenly tackled down into a muddy area of the field. As he hits the mud, the ball carrier releases the the ball so that other players can continue to play it. The ball goes out of bounds and the sir (referee) blows the whistle to stop the play.
Now, it is a line-out. To get the ball back in play, a Mound-West Tonka player throws the ball from outside the pitch to one of his teammates hoisted in the air, supported by surrounding players. Much like that of a cheer-leading lift, four boys, two from each team, are lifted into the air by their teammates. ZackArostegui is one of these players and, with outstretched arms, he snatches the ball and tips it off to a nearby Panther.
After only several minutes the sir again blows the whistle, this time due to an offsides penalty on the Panthers. The announcer informs the fans that a “scrum” will now take place. All the players now form a huddle like circle- hooking their legs and arms together. The ball is dropped in the center of this huddle, and players from both teams begin to push forward on one another. The Panther’s scrum half retrieves the ball and pushes it out of the circle, tipping it off to a shortstatured panther. He runs the ball several more yards into the try zone, scoring five points for the team. The true team chemistry of the Plymouth Panthers is apparent as Craig Shaver lifts the scoring candidate on his shoulders and parades him to the center of the pitch. Several other players gather to exchange high-fives and congratulations.
Only ten minutes into the game, the Plymouth Panthers prove to be an intimidating match for Mound-West Tonka. In the next 60 minutes, the Panthers prove themselves too daunting for the Tonka team and finish the game with a score of 25-10. For these BSM juniors, it has been another successful rugby game.
A Future for Rugby?
As the season comes to a finish, the thrill of the Friday night games and team get-togethers isn’t necessarily over for these five juniors. “We are all planning on playing rugby next year, and possibly in college on intramural teams,” saidSauer. The satisfaction, enjoyment, and testing of physical character the sport of rugby brings to these BSM students is one that truly leaves a lasting impact. ” I’m hoping that I can continue to play rugby as an adult…it’s a life sport,” said Shaver.