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BU Women’s Rugby Club Reflects Game’s Growing Popularity

The best sport in the world, say players, coaches

It’s 9:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday on Nickerson Field, but under the bright lights, dozens of women are hurtling across the field, the evening air punctuated by laughter and instructions: “Go here, go here.” Welcome to a BU women’s rugby football club scrimmage.

“Most people watch rugby and think we’re just randomly running around and trying to hurt each other,” says fullback Bhakti Patel (SAR’18). “It takes a lot more brain power and thought than people think. It really doesn’t get enough credit from outsiders.”

By her own admission, Patel was one of those outsiders until a chance encounter at Splash, the annual student activities fair, freshman year led her to try out for the team.

“I was walking around at Splash and I saw the rugby table,” Patel says. “Then a bunch of people swarmed me and told me I had to join. So, I was like, whatever, I’ll give it a try. And I ended up really liking it.”

The BU club was founded in 1998, and today has between 30 and 40 members, who practice three nights a week. The team competes in the Northeast Women’s Rugby Conference. In the fall, the team plays 15s—meaning 15 players starting on the field—in 8 to 10 matches against opponents that include the University of Connecticut, Boston College, and Northeastern University. During the spring season, team members play sevens—seven players starting on the field—in five to eight tournaments, culminating in a trip to the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia.

womens rugby team on the field

The Boston University women’s rugby football club practices three times a week. Photos by Cydney Scott

Because membership has expanded to about three dozen, the club currently has two teams: an A-side (varsity, 0-5 so far this season) and a B-side (junior varsity, currently 2-1-1). There’s also talk of adding a third team, comprising freshmen.

“We really want to add a third team for the freshmen, because they would learn a lot more that way, especially since a lot of them have never even touched a rugby ball before,” says Patel. “And with the way it’s growing, I definitely think it’s possible. Rugby being back in the Olympics for the first time in more than 90 years definitely helps too.”

In fact, women’s rugby is enjoying unprecedented popularity across the country. In the last two years alone, high school rugby participation has grown more than 400 percent, according to the NCAA. And a recent CNN story reports that rugby is now the fastest growing team sport in the country.

“When I was in high school in the Boston area in the late 1990s, I thought about playing rugby,” says women’s rugby club coach Nick Hildebidle (SED’13). “But I couldn’t find a team to play on anywhere. Now, the high school I went to has a team and there are a lot of other local high schools with teams. So, the growth is definitely there.”

The game is complex. In 15s, there are 8 forwards and 7 backs, and forwards play positions such as hookers and props, who use their size to deliver devastating hits. Backs include positions such as fullbacks and fly-halfs, who are playmakers.

Even veterans like Patel acknowledge that mastering the game’s intricacies is complicated. “We have so many plays we run. On offense, we have plays similar to basketball and football, such as crash and go. And even when a play breaks down, there’s always a pattern to follow. On defense, it’s mostly a defensive wall with the fullback screaming instructions, which is why I never have a voice after games—I scream a lot.”

The game, players will tell you, is not without risks. The sport is rife with injuries.

Anesha Jones (Questrom’17) plays rugby

Stephanie Quezada-Valenzuela (SAR’17) during a recent BU women’s rugby football club practice.

“In the first game I ever watched my rookie year, I saw a girl run off the field with a finger injury,” says prop Anesha Jones (CGS’15, CAS’17). “When I got closer, I saw her finger was horizontal instead of vertical like the rest of her fingers, and she couldn’t really move it. At that point, rugby was just a scary foreign tale to me.”

Despite that, both players and coaches agree: rugby is the greatest sport in the world.

“It’s the only sport where the rules are the same for men and women,” says Hildebidle. “It’s also a contact sport, which is always fun. And if you play rugby, you can go anywhere with it and meet anyone—it’s really easy to build friendships through rugby. On and off the field, it’s just the best.”

Find the club’s fall 2016 schedule here. Learn more about joining the club here.

Emmanuel Gomez can be reached at mannygo@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on BU Women’s Rugby Club Reflects Game’s Growing Popularity

  • droidaja on 12.20.2016 at 7:22 pm

    so hard but its fun, never give up guys

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