SAN DIEGO — It is a commonly held belief that Rugby can trace its origins all the way back to 1823, when a fellow named William Webb Ellis “showed a blatant disregard for the rules of football [soccer]” and shockingly picked up the ball up and began to run with it.
While there are all kinds of problems with this apocryphal theory from a historical perspective, no one really seems to care; or, if anyone did, their concern was mitigated long ago by a few stout pints of beer in the finest of rugby traditions.
Nearly 10 years old now, the Armada participates in both gay and straight rugby events and competes during the season in the primarily straight Southern California Rugby Football Union.
While most of the Armada members are gay, they have been welcomed into the Union with open arms and are usually quite competitive in their division.
During the Union’s off-season, the Armada schedules various exhibition matches or scrimmages with other teams from all over the western United States to stay fresh and enjoy the unique camaraderie that is the sport of rugby.
This weekend the Armada, which plays in Division IV, will host one such match against the Sin City Irish from Las Vegas, who play one level higher in Division III. The Irish is primarily a straight team coming to San Diego specifically to do battle with the Armada. The match will start at noon.
According to Armada secretary Daniel Tillapaugh, the match this weekend is a warm-up for a three-team tournament the Armada is hosting Saturday, December 11, also starting at noon, when the San Francisco Fog and the Los Angeles Rebellion will be coming to San Diego to compete against the Armada, and each other, in a round-robin format.
Both the match against the Irish this weekend and the tournament in December will be played in the UTC area, at Doyle Community Park.
A sport like no other
For those unfamiliar with rugby, the sport is similar to American football, only without the forward pass. Oh, and you’ll have to leave your pads and helmets at home.
There are other differences that make the sport unique. The game is comprised of two halves, each 40 minutes long, with a 10-minute break in between. The pitch is 100 meters long by 70 meters wide, making it larger than a football field.
To score in rugby, the ball has to cross the goal line and be placed on the ground “in a decisive way,” which means that some part of a player’s body has to be in contact with the ball when the ball is brought to the ground. When done successfully, this is called a “try” and it’s worth five points.”
Kicking is part of the game too, whether you’re trying to score “conversions” or “field goals,” or you’re just trying to advance the ball.
Rugby is the ultimate contact sport, with players running headlong into each other for seemingly no other purpose than to run headlong into each other.
For all of its violent collisions, the sport is elegant, an almost balletic synchronicity of motion; with forwards sliding down a line, opening running lanes for backs to burst through, all the while passing a rugby football backwards through the air from player-to-player in beautifully choreographed chaos.
A time-honored tradition
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the sport doesn’t even happen on the pitch.
Steeped in deep tradition, the “Third Half” is an opportunity for the two teams, their fans and supporters, to gather and socialize; usually in a bar that serves beer and tolerates raucous singing.
No kidding. They sing. They actually have traditional rugby songs.
Name another sport where you can score a “try,” break a nose and then go out, have a beer and sing “Do your balls hang lo? Do they dangle to and fro?”
Still not convinced? There are actual rugby songs that date back to the origin of the sport itself, and believe it or not, that was the tame one.
This seemingly sophomoric tradition for a sport with a rich and long history is part of what makes rugby so much fun. It is also very often the tool that brings together members of the Armada with their straight counterparts in other leagues.
The Third Half for the Irish match this weekend will be held at True North Tavern in North Park immediately following the match.
After the the tournament in December, ruggers and their fans will gather at The Hole in Point Loma.
Roman Jimenez is the sports columnist for SDGLN. He is an award-winning journalist who spent most of his career covering crime and politics. After burning out, he became a media consultant for high profile science and technology companies as the founder of The Media Prose. Belying his massive frame, Roman’s skills as an athlete are well known, playing tennis and softball regularly with all the quickness and agility of a pregnant rhinoceros. As a result, Roman has covered sports in our community for various outlets off and on for 10 years.