Rugby clubs from across the Southeast participated in Saturday's Blum Plum Rugby Sevens Tournament. (Carter Giegerich/Johnson City Press)
It’s similar to football, soccer and a gigantic social club, but there’s nothing quite like it. Rugby is a physically demanding, emotionally charged sport that is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States.
The fourth annual Blue Plum Rugby Sevens Tournament saw a diverse collection of men’s and women’s teams from across the Southeast competing for the championship, and after a hard-fought day in the sun, Knoxville Smoky Mountain Elite men’s rugby club and Cabin Fever, the women’s rugby team from Middle Tennessee State University, found themselves on top.
The tournament was round robin style, with the top eight men’s teams and the top four women’s teams competing in a playoff for the championship.
For the uninitiated, rugby may seem overwhelming at first. The action rarely stops, sort of like soccer, but the game gets physical in a way that is much more reminiscent of American football. Two teams try to advance a ball down the field by running with the ball or kicking it downfield. Players can also throw the ball to teammates, but they cannot throw the ball forward to advance further toward the goal. This is made substantially more difficult by the fact the defending team is allowed to tackle the ballcarrier to stop their progress.
The Blue Plum tournament, which was coordinated by the Johnson City Men’s Club and the Molly Pitchers Rugby Club, featured a variant on traditional rugby rules known as “sevens.” Whereas normal rugby rules call for 15 players to a side and 40 minute halves, rugby sevens has only seven players per team on the pitch and consists of two seven-minute periods. With fewer players and less time to score, the action is usually much more intense in sevens than in regular rugby.
It wasn’t just about coming away with the win, though. For many of the players at the tournament, the camaraderie provided by the sport was the biggest motivation for coming out and giving their all.
“Wherever you go in the world, you can look up the local rugby club and have 40 new friends. It’s like the world’s biggest fraternity,” said Max Palmer, a player for Emory & Henry’s rugby club who filled in on the Johnson City Men’s Club at the tournament.
Palmer said physical fitness and a knowledge of the game help, and said many of the skills necessary to excel in soccer are important for a good rugby player as well. The biggest asset for a rugby team, though, is the ability to work well with others as a team. This translates off the field, or “pitch” as it’s formally known, as well.
“Your rugby brothers are there for you, both on and off the pitch,” said Josh Dishner, one of the tournament’s organizers and a player for the Johnson City Men’s Club rugby team.
For a sport that might seem violent on its face, the rugby associations at the tournament radiated positivity and support for each other and their community. Scott Dishner, Josh’s brother and teammate, says that community outreach is something they’ve tried to include in the club’s operations as much as they can.
“We’ve done different sorts of field days with different boys and girls clubs, trying to educate the youth about the game of rugby,” said Dishner. “It’s very popular overseas, just not so much here.”
The spirit of inclusion was a common theme for many of the teams in attendance, and many players said teamwork was the most important skill to have when getting started in the sport.
“This isn’t something where you have to know somebody to get in,” said Dishner. “Everybody’s welcome.”
The club practices every Tuesday and Thursday at Indian Trail Middle School, and Dishner says anyone interested in getting involved in the sport should try attending a practice or reaching out to the group on Facebook.comments powered by Disqus