Men’s rugby club preps for upcoming semester schedule
By Vincent Peña
In the U.S., exclusive attention is paid to sports like football, baseball and basketball. However, elsewhere in the world, sports like soccer and rugby reign supreme, the latter of which is often viewed as a hybrid between soccer and football per traditional legend of the creation of rugby.
To Americans, rugby is thought of as football without pads and a bigger ball. Most Americans don’t know how to play rugby and even fewer have ever watched a match. It’s a generally unknown sport because football dominates American sport culture and doesn’t leave much room for anything else.
Rugby in America seems to be only relevant at the college level and in adult leagues. Rugby is an NCAA sanctioned sport, but at Northern Arizona University (NAU), only a rugby club is offered.
The NAU rugby football club, the Landsharks, is one of the oldest athletic clubs on campus and has been around for 34 years. The Landsharks are a member of the Arizona Rugby Union, an adult men’s league, which includes teams from all over the state.
The Union season does not start until January, so the matches this semester are unofficial, but the Landsharks still participate in a number of matches and tournaments. Most of the teams they play are not college teams, but they do occasionally play other schools, such as ASU, who the Landsharks have beaten two years in a row, including earlier in the semester.
Because the Landsharks are a club team, it is not just offered exclusively to NAU students, but also to the public. There is an array of people on the team, ranging from lawyers and teachers to contractors and professors. Current Landsharks player and NAU mathematics professor, Matthew Fahy, said having this mix of players presents some difficulties.
“Most of the students haven’t played rugby and we pretty much assume nobody’s touched a ball before, so there is the lack of experience,” Fahy said. “It’s also tough to get them to commit. We lose kids to school and graduation and basically have to hit the reset button every year.”
The lack of commitment from the students puts a damper on the continuity of the team and the size of the team fluctuates week to week, though they usually have enough players to field an “A” side and “B” side. Having college kids is certainly beneficial.
“The flipside of that, though, is that they are usually faster and more athletic,” Fahy said. “Many of the teams we play are teams that have been playing with each other for ten plus years. Playing for that long makes a difference.”
Landsharks head coach Aaron Proctor said the club’s level of ability is impressive.
“We have the most enthusiastic, youngest, fittest, team out there. We also have better fitness, because of the altitude, than most of the other teams,” Proctor said.
The club also hosts the longest running Tens Tournament in the country here in Flagstaff, which brings in teams from all over Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California. Tens rugby is played with five fewer players than the regular fifteen that are usually on the field and is akin to 3-on-3 basketball in terms of the speed of the game.
This year was the 32nd annual Tens Tournament and the Landsharks entered three teams to compete: an adult team and two college squads. The adult team won all three of its games in the tournament and both college sides made significant strides.
“We had some other teams, some college development sides, and they didn’t play as well, but they’re all brand new, so it’s a good tournament because we have our best teams playing very well,” Proctor said. “Our development teams are coming along so, it went really, really well.”
The Landsharks will travel to Albuquerque for a regular Union tournament called the High Desert Classic, in which they will play full 15-man sides and full length matches compared to the shorter, faster-paced tens rugby.
“In the fall, it’s all about developing the team, and so this is a good tournament to do that, because we play a lot of teams from New Mexico that we don’t play the rest of the year,” Proctor said. “The different competition is nice because we play some teams three or four times a year.”
Club President Steven Hanson said he is looking forward to the tournament because it will be a good learning experience.
“This weekend should be a good challenge for a bunch of players because a bunch of the veterans aren’t going to be able to make it due to jobs and other prior commitments,” Hanson said. “So, it’s going to be a nice learning experience for a lot of our players this weekend. Hopefully we’ll come of it a lot better and I think we’ll do pretty well actually.”
The Landsharks also have several tournaments slated in the upcoming months, including traveling to Las Vegas.
“That’s how the fall is, just getting as many friendly matches, as much rugby for my guys as I can, cause they just need the experience,” Proctor said.