There isn’t a better time to be a rugby player, coach, or fan in the United States. The rugby boom began in 2010 when Sevens Rugby was added to the Olympics. From there, rugby has been growing across the USA in leaps and bounds. Wait, you say you’ve never heard of rugby or seen it? Is it the sport played with the stick with a net on the end or you ride a broom and chant magical nothings? No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong.
While the sport has not been in the public eye until recently, rugby has been played in the USA for over a hundred years. The best thing about rugby is that it is a sport that has a spot for everyone and welcomes all sizes, builds, and skills into its fold. Some of the best players never played a sport before taking up rugby. Whether you start playing rugby tomorrow or become a fan today, we urge you to continue the USA Rugby Tradition.
Rugby is the only sport that women and men share the same laws (rules), field size and equipment options. Unlike the WNBA, who uses a smaller ball and shorter three-point line, the women that play rugby have all the same requirements as their male counterparts. Rugby is also one of the only sports that combines brawn with elegant violence. Elegant violence you say? This term is often used to describe rugby as it is a ferocious contact sport, but safety is held above all else. Unlike football where players are often taught to use their head (helmet) as a missile, rugby focuses on the safety of tackling while also providing unbelievably exciting hits.
Now that we have established that rugby is for everyone (are you a believer yet?), lets take a look at the current competitive structures for rugby in the USA. Starting at the top, the National Sevens and Fifteens teams are the two variations of rugby played in the USA and across the world. Fifteens is the more traditional style of rugby where teams of 15 play two 40 minute halves. Sevens has grown quite popular in the last few years and is teams of seven playing two seven minute halves. The fundamental difference between the two variations is the number of players; however, the pitch (playing field) is the same size. With only seven players, the game tends to be a bit more open and free flowing during Sevens. Many also argue that Sevens is a bit easier to watch because it is 66 minutes shorter than a full Fifteens match. The action is fast, furious and exhilarating!
The top of the rugby pyramid includes representing the USA on a National Team. Currently, you can represent the USA on the Sevens National Team or the Fifteens National Team. There are also variations for Collegiate and High School All American National Teams. For those that have worn or will wear the USA jersey, this is an immense honor and our National Team Coaches only select the best to represent the Red, White and Blue.
Let’s talk about the different levels of rugby that are available to you.
Sevens National Team – 7s
The USA Rugby Women’s Sevens Team is comprised of sixteen players, all of which are Olympic Contracted athletes. This team participates in the Women’s Sevens World Series Tournament which leads up to the Sevens Rugby World Cup in Russia this June. The Sevens Rugby World Cup will be replaced by the Olympics in 2016 and will occur once every four years along with the Olympic cycle. The USA Sevens team is currently ranked fourth in the world behind New Zealand, England and Australia.
Fifteens National Team – 15s
The USA Rugby Fifteens Team is a player pool of 60 players. Currently, the team is prepping for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris, France in 2014. The Women’s Rugby World Cup takes place once every four years. At the first Rugby World Cup in 1991, the Eagles took home the Cup. In recent World Cups, the USA hasn’t reached the final but has placed as high as fourth place. This year the Fifteens program has announced three matches against France (June) and their participation in Nations Cup (annual tournament against Canada) in July and August.
Fifteens – Club, Collegiate and High School
Beyond the National Teams there are varied levels of fifteens competition throughout the USA. Starting with the Women’s Premier League (WPL), these are the top eight teams in the country. This league boasts some major rugby powerhouses with the Berkeley All Blues (National Champions ’94, ’97-’98, ’11-’12) and New York (National Champions ‘06). Other well known teams include Beantown (Boston, MA), Washington DC Furies and the Twin City Amazons (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN). The newcomers from the Division 1 league in the last few years include the San Diego Surfers, Glendale Raptors (Glendale, CO) & the Atlanta Harlequins.
Below the WPL is the Club division which encompasses adult grade rugby. This league comprises the largest portion of women’s rugby with over ninety teams, all spread across the USA. These teams are split into eight Competitive Regions and are either Division 1 or 2. In Division 1, recent National Champions of the league include the Atlanta Harlequins (2012, have sinced moved up to the WPL), Chicago NS (2011) and the San Diego Surfers (2010). For Division 2, recent winners of the league include Severn River (Annapolis, MD) in 2012 and Raleigh Venom in 2011.
While rugby is not a NCAA sport yet, many colleges do include rugby as either a Varsity or Club sport. The current Varsity programs include Eastern Illinois University, West Chester University, Bowdoin College, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Norwich University, Quinnipiac University, Harvard University and Davenport University. Just like the Club competition, there are two separate divisions for Collegiate rugby and they compete in Conferences. In Division 1, recent National Championship winners include Penn State (2012) and Army (2011). In Division 2, recent National Championship winners include Norwich (2012, now competing as a D1 program) and Radcliffe (2011).
Youth rugby is absolutely skyrocketing in the USA. Youth leagues are literally bursting at the seams as families discover that rugby is safe, fun and incredibly rewarding. As for the high school world, rugby is still blossoming, but growing stronger and stronger each year. Fallbrook of Fallbrook, CA is synonymous with winning. They have absolutely dominated the high school scene. Their program boasts 40+ girls with high school, U16 and U14 teams.
Sevens – Club, Collegiate and High School
With the emphasis on Olympics Sevens Rugby, the Club, Collegiate and Youth levels now have an outlet to they can aspire. In 2011, USA Rugby created the Women’s Club Sevens National Championship. The tournament initially existed in 2010, but not under the USA Rugby umbrella. In 2011 it was brought underneath USA Rugby and NOVA claimed the first National Championship. In 2012, a new champion was crowned, the San Diego Surfers.
The USA Rugby National Collegiate Sevens Tournament was created in 2011 and included ten teams. In 2012, the tournament expanded to include twelve teams. Norwich claimed the Championship in 2011 and 2012.
USA Rugby does not currently host a National Championship for High Schools, however USA Sevens created the High School Rugby Challenge in 2012. Fallbrook claimed the title in 2012 and will defend it in June 2013.
That’s about everything I know about women’s rugby in the USA. As you can see, rugby is out there and all you have to do is give it a try! Rugby is actively seeking new fans and whether you’re interested in representing the USA at the Olympics or simply picking up a game of touch, rugby is the sport for you. We can’t say it enough, rugby is for everyone!
Article by Wendy Young, Senior Contributor
Sport: It’s A Female Thing!