SportStars Magazine

Rugby: A Game Of Its Own

Coaches Of Fabled Sport Contrast Rugby With Football

When people think of rugby, the first thing that usually comes to mind is football without the pads. While yes, rugby players do not wear pads, the ins and outs of the games are vastly different, while keeping some of the same skills, i.e. evading defense, open running, and tackling.

Rugby players make amazing football players, and football players make phenomenal rugby players due to the similarities of the games. Where football players really shine is in ball carrying since everyone on a rugby field is able to carry the ball and make a difference. If you didn’t know, football actually came from rugby, where in order to score points, you must touch the ball down to the ground for a “try,” where do you think football got the term “touchdown?”

Rugby NorCal, the governing body of all youth and high school rugby in Northern California, is one of the largest regions in the country for youth rugby, and many of our winter sport rugby coaches also coach football during the fall. We interviewed these coaches and superintendents who support the sport of rugby to determine the similarities and differences between rugby and football, why they coach both sports, what they see from players who play both sports, and why rugby is an important part of their communities.

Bishop O’Dowd’s Chris Lucas is a star in both football and rugby.

Interviewed are: Ray Lehner, rugby and football coach at Bishop O’Dowd High-Oakland, Alan Petty, rugby and football coach at Elsie Allen High (Santa Rosa), Bob Ericksen, rugby and football coach for Mother Lode Rugby Club (Folsom) and Casa Robles High (Orangevale), and Jordan Reeves, superintendent of the Gridley Unified School District. Here’s some of what they had to say:

>> What are the key similarities and differences between Rugby and Football?

LEHNER: The physical requirements to be successful are the same; quick feet, explosive power, speed endurance, toughness and physicality. I always view the biggest difference as: football is a collision sport rugby is a contact sport. The stop-start nature of football allows for larger athletes and far bigger collisions. Rugby’s continuous game requires a speed endurance motor that most football players have not developed or even explored.

PETTY: Rugby encourages open-field running. When a football runner breaks into the open field, the methods of choosing routes to attack the defense are wide open, as it is relatively rare, not a lot of time is spent on this in practices. This situation is very common in rugby so players get a lot of time practicing running in space and acquire muscle memory in evasion methods. In football, fitness is not really a key component. In the modern rugby game, aerobic fitness is a must for all players. It is not unusual for offensive linemen to shed 30-40 pounds of fat in a rugby season, while retaining most or all of their muscle mass.

ERICKSEN: The scoring is also similar where in rugby a try is worth five points and the conversion after is worth two whereas in football a touchdown is worth six points and the conversion is worth one point. The main difference between the two is rugby is continuous where football stops after each play. Another key difference is in rugby the coach has very little influence on the game once play begins. The players control the flow, tempo and strategy on their own. In football the coaches set the plan for each play and await the result of each five-second set of plays. Rugby allows the players to use their skill to probe the opponent’s weak points and exploit the those by moving the ball to different locations on the field and angles to find holes.

REEVES: There is a clearly a place for both sports. Since rugby and football are played in different seasons, our players are not forced to make a choice between the two sports. They can participate in both.

>> What would you tell to a football player who wants to play rugby?

LEHNER: Play both; crossover athletes are the very best, same goes for wrestling, water polo even basketball players. Once playing rugby, the quicker you figure out how to manage your energy to be productive in an 80-minute match, the better off you will be. Most first-time football players in rugby “blow up” after 15 minutes from sprinting to every ruck (as they would in football).

PETTY: For most football players playing ANY other sport in the offseason is better than just specializing in one. If rugby looks like fun, they should try it. Especially linemen who get a chance to actually run a ball.

ERICKSEN: I tell the players who aren’t 6-foot-4 and 260 lbs. that there are positions you can play in rugby into college and beyond. Rugby is not like football is, where if you don’t fit a particular height, weight and speed, you can’t play in college. Rugby loves the “tweeners” who play with guts and determination but may not have the prototype physique.

— All copy and photos provided by Rugby NorCal

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