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Rugby Football Club Players Enjoy Competition & Social Aspects of Sport

The Standard  MSU  — Aaron Unterreiner Sep 20, 2000

The game of rugby was invented by accident. William Ellis, a student and football [soccer] player at Rugby College in England was frustrated by his inability to kick a soccer ball. So during an inter-squad game, he stopped using his feet and decided to use his hands instead. Ellis picked the ball up and scurried downfield disregarding his obvious breach of football etiquette.

Ellis' ineptitude created a buzz among not only his teammates but also people everywhere. That play at Rugby College soon became known as "Rugby's game.” A hundred and seventy-seven years later, rugby has grown to become one of the most popular sports in the world. The sport became the game of choice in countries such as Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, and it has extended its reach well into America, more specifically, Springfield, MO. The Springfield Rugby Football Club has been around for 17 years and could very well be the best-kept secret in town. 

"I think if people are exposed to it, it's going to be something that they really like." club president Rhett Smillie said. 

The rugby football club had its home opener last Saturday and defeated merit table (a rugby term for division) rival, the Columbia Outlaws.It was the second time these two teams have met this season. They squared off in the St. Louis Royals' Tournament two weekends ago where the Springfield club swept the competition and defended its crown for the third straight year.

"Three years ago, we were surprised to win," said club coach Andrew Baines. "Now, we expect to win. That is the difference that experience and training brings to this team.”

"I think that the athletes that are participating are taking a much more professional approach to it, are much more focused goal-wise," Smillie said. "I think everybody that is playing right now realizes the team's potential.”

There is no room for error. The club plays 10 merit table matches against Columbia, Northland, Johnson County and Pittsburg State, and it must come out on top in every contest if it wants to advance to the Western Playoffs. Last year it, did just that but suffered a disappointing loss in its first contest to the Houston Woodlands. It is a difficult road to the championship game. The Western Playoffs consist of teams west of the Mississippi River and east of Colorado, extending laterally from Canada to Mexico.

If a team succeeds in the Western Playoffs, then it advances to the Sweet 16, a compilation of the 16 best clubs in America. If it can best that competition, then it gets a shot at vying for the championship trophy.

Winning the ultimate prize might very well be one of the toughest feats in all of sports to accomplish. Remembering the physical nature of the sport, the football club travels weekly [via its own transportation] to Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Texas and all around Missouri, playing about 20 to 30 games a season, not including the playoffs.

Amazingly enough, the injuries are kept usually to a minimum. 

"It ranges," said Drury University student Kelly Weber. 

"You can get lucky and go a season with just one or two [injuries]. "Smillie agreed, "You would think there would be more injuries, but you have to be so fit in order to compete.”

Rugby is not only a physical sport, but it is a socializing sport as well.

"One thing that I think is nice about rugby is the other team goes down to Culley's [Pub] with us," Smillie said. "We spend several hours down there with the guys and a lot of beer, and typically we have dinner.”

In fact, the first rule of rugby travel is to eat and drink at every opportunity. At the end of each practice, usually one can find all or most of the 36 members of the club enjoying beers in the parking lot. The Springfield Brewing Company sells beer at every home match, and there is always food on the grill just in case the fans get hungry. Culley's Pub and the Brewing Company are major sponsors for the football club. Currently, all matches are being played on the corner of National and Montclair streets, but in the future, Smillie plans to move the club to a facility being built close to Price Cutter Park off Highway 65.

"The addition of this facility will allow us to host multi-team tournaments, which attract new players, new fans and more attention," Smillie said.

Baines is excited at the growing popularity of the sport and, consequently, the expanding size of his roster.

"There are more new, experienced players training and our returning players have something to prove. They all want to build on the reputations that Springfield plays good, tough rugby," Baines said.

The undefeated Springfield Rugby Football Club's next appearance at home will be Saturday, Sept. 30, against Northland. For further information on the football club look on its Web Site,

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