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Rugby - it’s good for you!

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An Eagle Rock fullback is brought down my two San Luis Obispo players. Ken Miller is on the far right.
San Luis Obispo Football Club

I can’t fully express how excited I was to hear that Las Vegas has become the home of the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament and Fan Festival. I’ve played the game myself, and I can attest to how amazing it is to be a part of, whether you’re watching or participating.

In 2002, I played the lock position for the San Luis Obispo Rugby Football Club, and despite never having played the game before I had an absolute blast. Not that it came without its share of injuries. I was sore for days after every match; there were many chiropractor visits for sore shoulders, and the constant wear and tear on my feet — stomping is a part of the game — led to the loss of both my big toenails. (Don’t worry; they grew back!)

But the pain paled in comparison to the feeling of community that exists among ruggers. It’s not unusual to find clubs across the country with 20-year-olds mixed in with 50-year-olds — the sport has appeal for everyone. And did I mention the parties after games? They’re a tradition as rich in rituals as rugby itself. In my league, we had a mascot (Madeleine, a sawed-in-half mannequin) that a particular player had to keep on his person at all times throughout the week — or suffer the consequences (usually embarrassing ones). The amount of food and beer available is usually staggering — I found the parties to be almost as exhausting as the games themselves.

Ken and the lovely Madeleine.

Ken and the lovely Madeleine.

My year in the club produced incredible memories, as well as the prized “Coach’s Award” (more for my dedication than my skill set). Through it all, I truly felt part of something special, something that’s as prized by players for the social element as for the thrill of the sport. So to those who call this game “ugly,” “violent” and the sport of “thugs,” I can only guess you haven’t actually been to a game. Well, now’s your chance.

Calendar

USA Sevens Rugby Tournament
February 13 and 14 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Matches begin at 10 a.m. both days.
Tickets are available as single-day or two-day, and range from $35 to $500.
739-FANS or unlvtickets.com

The USA Sevens Rugby Tournament and Fan Festival is heading to Las Vegas on February 13 and 14. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief primer:

What this sport amounts to, essentially, is an enormous game of keep-away, combined with that old playground classic, Smear the Queer (it may be un-PC, but in the case of historical accuracy, that’s what it was called): A team of 15 plays on a field (called the pitch) for two 40-minute halves, during which its members must move the ball downfield by passing it backward — never forward, as in American football, unless the ball is kicked. Only the player carrying the ball may be tackled, upon which he must let go of the ball. Play is continuous with no time-outs, and in cases of penalties both teams must scrap for the ball by battering their bodies together in a “scrum.” When a team scores a five-point “try,” the ball must then be kicked through the posts straight out from the spot it was run across the goal line for the two-point conversion.

There’s far more to the game than that, but even if you feel confused, you won’t be after watching a few of the scheduled 44 games among 16 teams over the tournament’s two days at Sam Boyd Stadium. Sevens is an abbreviated match lasting 20 minutes, and teams are reduced in size to — you guessed it — seven players each. Matches tend to be fast-paced, and as you watch, you’ll find yourself talking about “locks,” “wingers,” “rucks” and “mauls” as if you’ve known about them your entire life.

And, as this is a fan festival, expect plenty of that social element I mentioned. Expect to make new friends; this sport draws the most gregarious people I’ve ever known. Just make sure you have a designated driver.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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