Sports update: rugby in Bloomington

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Jeff Neukom, Managing Editor

 

Despite it being one of the fastest growing sports in the country, few people know much of anything about rugby. Still less people are aware that there is a team right here in Bloomington, Ill.

Led by captain Dan Higby, the team originated in the spring of 2012, with a number of the team’s members being graduates of Illinois State University.

“It was largely word-of-mouth and meeting people. We had a graduate student from Pennsylvania and a local guy from Ireland,” Higby said. “We took whoever else we could find to round out 15 players.”

From year to year, the roster changes as veteran players move on or as new players join the ranks. Even so, the team realizes the importance of working as a unit, rather than a motley crew of individuals.

“Teamwork in rugby is more imperative than any other sport,” Higby said. “If you don’t practice together and know instinctively what the guy to your left and right are going to do, it makes for a long day, especially against well-established clubs.”

On Saturday, Sept. 12, the Bloomington Clash took on the Pigs from Peoria, Ill. Both clubs play in the D4 conference as part of the Illinois Rugby Football Union.

The Pigs won 53-5, with a large amount of their points coming from breakaways and missed tackles from the Bloomington squad.

Rugby’s scoring system is a tad different than other sports, so it may be beneficial to explain how it all works. Many of us are familiar enough with American football to know that when a player crosses the goal line, it’s a touchdown. In rugby, a scoring opportunity is called a try, and they are converted by grounding the ball past the opponent’s goal line. In rugby union, tries are worth five points. They are followed by a conversion, which is an attempt to kick the ball over the crossbar to convert the try into a larger set of points.

The Peoria squad logged nine tries in addition to four conversions. The Bloomington squad was held to a lone try.

“The Peoria team featured a much more controlled attack compared to the Bloomington squad,” said Illinois Wesleyan senior Mike Wombacher. “Much of this is because Peoria has a more experienced side and Bloomington has been plagued by injuries over the past year.”

Peoria’s squad was the better-organized team in this match, which led to nine tries on their part, as well as four successful conversions. Even so, Higby has high hopes for his team. “I’d like to win our division and then compete with Chicagoland rugby.”

In order to do this, his team will first need to achieve consistency, something that has been hard to do with team members having to squeeze in time around work and family life. If they can do this, they have some talented members of the team. They can be special.

“Peoria played the better game, they were more effective with their passing and were much better tacklers,” Wombacher said. “In my opinion Bloomington has a lot of upside with their current group and I’m very excited about when their full squad returns healthy.”

IWU Rugby club:

Wombacher, a captain of the rugby club team here at Illinois Wesleyan, attended the game to scout, and, of course, to watch some good old-fashioned rugby. An unabashed fan of the game, Wombacher was there to support the Bloomington squad as well as gain some insight on how experienced teams operate. Along with senior Luke Cipich, he is establishing the first-ever club rugby team on IWU’s campus.

Students from all sorts of backgrounds have flocked to the rugby squad. Many have background in football or other sports, but the team is open to anyone who’s willing to work hard and hit harder.

The team’s first game is Saturday, Sept. 19 against Eastern Illinois University. They play at 5:30 p.m. on the practice field behind Tucci Stadium.