Rugby 7 Adds New Dimension to Sport Growing in Popularity

Nick Craven and Josh Willis, Staff Reporters

One step on the pitch, and you will quickly learn rugby is not for the lighthearted. Dating to ancient Roman and Greek times, rugby is a major sport in Australia and over time made its way to the United States — and Trinity High School.

Some think that rugby is a “brutal” sport and football is safer.

Trinity forward Brandon Attaway disagrees, saying, “Rugby is not as brutal as everyone thinks. It’s pretty much as brutal as American football.”

Attaway, a senior who has had multiple injuries, ranging from a bloody nose to a lot of bumps and bruises and a torn labrum, joined the team his sophomore year “because a friend of mine told me to go and try it. The game is too much fun to stop.”

You might think Kentucky would be a rare place to find rugby teams thriving, but the seed has been planted and the sport is growing.  The Rocks, state runner-up last year to Louisville St. Xavier, have so far this season defeated the Memphis Chiefs (Tenn.) and Clarksville Highlanders (Tenn.) and fallen to Georgetown (Tenn.), Cincinnati St. Xavier and Westfield (Ind.).   

Rugby is not as brutal as everyone thinks. It’s pretty much as brutal as American football.”

— Trinity senior Brandon Attaway

Much was running through the mind of Trinity’s five-year head coach Neil Arnold toward the end of the 2015-2016 season.  He had coached the Rocks’ 15 vs. 15 team since it began. Arnold wanted to bring something new into the picture, 7 v. 7 rugby.  There was a small issue, though. He had never coached 7 v. 7 rugby.

With the help of contacts from college, when he played for the University of Kentucky, he started one of the first 7 v. 7 rugby teams in Kentucky, Bluegrass Elite Rugby.

He said it took five to six months to get it all together.  The hardest part, he said, was “finding players for my team and then finding teams to play.”

Because Bluegrass Elite is a club and not part of any school or other program, sponsors were an option. Arnold said, “We got a great sponsorship with a company called Ruck Science, and they have supplements specific for rugby players.”

Most of the players for Bluegrass Elite were members of the Trinity team.  They began practicing last August and continued until the 7 v. 7 season began.  Every Monday and Wednesday at Seneca park, a group of guys ran around like madmen, passing a rugby ball around and learning the new techniques used in 7 rugby.

“Learning 7 rugby was much more difficult, I feel, because 15 is so different,” Trinity senior wing Ronan Kinsella said.

Fifteen v. 15 rugby has a flat-line defensive stance, shoulder to shoulder line across the pitch.  There are generally 15 feet between each player so the field is equally covered.  The offensive stance is eight “pack” players (the big guys, heavy hitters) grouped in four pairs called crashes.  The remaining seven players are called the “wing” (smaller, faster players), who line up staggered at an angle opposite to the pack players.

In rugby 7 the defensive stance runs parallel with the pitch’s length with 10 to 20 yards between each player.  As the offensive team approaches, the first player moves left or right to make contact, and the next player is the follow-up to the first, and so on and so forth.  The offensive line up is very mixed, with no separation between pack and wing as they line up in a staggered formation and run down the field.

Senior Patrick McKinney said rugby appeals to him because it is “primitive.”  In today’s complex society, something as primitive and “violent” as rugby draws quite a crowd.  “It is really popular in Europe, and it’s starting to get big here in the United States,” McKinney said.

Rugby is the most popular sport in New Zealand and has now become ranked as a top-three sport in six countries: Australia, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Burkina Faso, Sweden, and Austria.

The Rocks, who play Carmel (Ind.) this Saturday at Trinity, are led by Luke McKean (senior, wing), Nick Mackin (senior, forward), Nick Craven (senior, forward), Attaway, Jeremy Walker Allen (junior, wing) and Kinsella, described by teammates as a skilled leader.

Senior Aaron Vale said Kinsella is “a good leader, team builder, good athlete. He’s not afraid to get hit or hit someone hard. He keeps the team doing what they need to do.”