Mike Sueoka picked up rugby his freshman year and three years later, as the team president, has seen a big change on the UC Irvine team. The UCI Men’s Rugby Football Club has been active at UCI since 1968, making it among the oldest club sports on campus. In all this time, it has never been widely acknowledged. Few Americans even know what it is; we think of bloody Brits when we hear the name. ‘Give blood, play rugby’ is a common joke, referring to the players’ lack of protective gear.
Rugby is fairly unknown here in the United States. It’s an intense, fast-paced sport, a mix of soccer and football, where 15-player teams run across the field going for ‘tries’ and ‘conversions.’
Though players are divided into back and forward positions, all players get involved in offense and defense, both the grunt work and the glory. There are two 40-minute halves of nonstop action because, unlike football, play is continuous. Offensively, the ball can be passed laterally, run with or kicked. The team with the ball forms a diagonal line, passing it down the line as they run forward.
The opposing team attempts to intercept the ball, which can be protected as players form a ‘maul’ around their ball-holding teammate. A five-point touchdown or ‘try’ is followed by a ‘conversion’ which equals two points.
You really have to see this game to understand it. ‘You can be any size and play rugby,’ Sueoka said. ‘Only one guy here played rugby in high school. Most did soccer, track or football. The backs are usually fast sprinters, while the forwards are the big guys.’
With prospects of a growing student population at UCI, Sueoka feels that the rugby team will also gain popularity as general interest in sports increases.
He often receives e-mails from across the country, even internationally, from students interested in the team here. The UCI team is hoping to move onto the national scene in the next few years. Currently, they play Division II in the Southern California Rugby Football Union and have a 3-0 record for the season so far. Depending on how this season goes, they may progress to the next level: Division I.
In the last few years the team has grown, going from around 12 members in 2003 to nearly 40 in 2005. Recruiting is usually done by word of mouth or booths on Ring Road. Many current players became interested in the sport while studying abroad in rugby-loving countries.
‘Rugby is probably the biggest fraternity in the world,’ said UCI Coach Dan Cossettini, ‘Wherever you go, if you’re a rugby player, the camaraderie is universal.’
Last Friday, the team played their rivals, Cal State Fullerton, for the Higgins Cup. UCI has not won this title in five years so there was definite pressure to perform well. Over 100 people showed up to the ARC fields to cheer on the team.
UCI won for the first time in five years in a decisive 35-12 victory. The win was largely due to ‘our speed and moving quickly up the sidelines,’ according to several team members. The first half ended with UCI up 17-7, with the Anteaters squashing CSUF by 13 points in the last half. ‘We didn’t play our best game, but we did what we had to do to win,’ Cossettini said.
Although there is not currently a women’s rugby team at UCI, increasing interest has prompted the coaching staff of the men’s team to start looking into hiring a women’s coach, hopefully Kate Nichol, a very experienced rugby player.
Plans for starting the women’s rugby team will begin in spring, and the program should begin by fall 2006. The rugby Web site, http://www.ucirugby.com, has routine updates on games, schedules, a team roster and all the information you want to know. You can also e-mail Cossettini at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The team practices on the ARC fields Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:45 to 9:00 p.m., with games typically on Saturdays.