Rugby, the largest club sport in the United States and currently the fastest-growing high school sport in the nation, combines the constant movement of soccer and the physical intensity of football. Internationally renowned, rugby has been around Princeton since the early 1860s, with the official inception of the Princeton Rugby Club dating back to 1931.
Playing with a spheroid ball a bit larger than a football, ruggers, or rugby players, can only gain ground by running or kicking the ball forward, not through a forward pass. The game is split into two 40 minute periods, with scoring achieved in either a try, touching the ball to the ground past the opponent’s goal line, or through a goal, which is essentially kicking a field goal.
Princeton men’s rugby has historically been a force in the Ivy League, finishing in 2004 as league champion and finishing third in each of the last three years. Rugby is currently one of the largest clubs on campus, attracting athletes from all skill levels. The team practices three times a week during normal practice hours.
While not a varsity sport, the rugby squad keeps both a fall and spring season and goes on an international competition tour every three years. In the past six years, the rugby team has travelled to Trinidad, Argentina and most recently Ireland.
The size and popularity of Princeton rugby has been a direct reflection of the dedication of its athletes, most recently highlighted by the team’s effort to bike the number of miles from Princeton to Dublin in an effort to raise money for its trip.
“Rugby’s philosophy is about inclusion and participation. It’s not about standing on the sidelines, and players don’t wait on the sidelines for three years before they get on the pitch,” coach Richard Lopacki said. “Everybody plays, and everybody can attack, defend and make their own decisions on the pitch.”
During their seven-day spring tour, 36 students and one coach spent seven days in Ireland, competing in three matches, including one with the Shannon U-20’s, one of the top teams in Ireland, where rugby is a professional sport.
While the number of Princeton ruggers is somewhat in flux, it manages to stay popular since it’s a sport that anyone can pick up.
“Rugby is a pretty simple game, and it really comes down to running catching and tackling. No matter how much extra skills you learn, you always have to come down to the basics,” Lopacki said.
While typically known as a purely physical sport, the game brings the best parts of all sports to make it some of the 80 most exciting minutes you’ll ever watch. From the pure physical brute of the scrum to the intricacies of devising strategies for team play, rugby has something for everyone.
“Rugby is a very empowering game, it teaches you bravery and how to become a leader of the team,” Lopacki said. It’s also the sport that is very inclusive. Anywhere in the world, you walk into a rugby club, and people will invite you in.”
With its spring season in full swing, the Tiger squad is aiming to obtain its first Ivy League championship since 2004. The Ivy League championship will be held at Columbia in just three weeks. In the meantime, however, the rugby squad is still looking for athletes, especially to get ready for next year’s season.
“Just give it a try. For anyone who likes running around and playing a physical sport, you should definitely come out and play,” Lopacki said. “Rugby is unique as a sport and as a Princeton institution, a group that really cares about each other, and this feeling goes through for all the years that you’re around. It’s a true community.”