By Evan Johnson
On Saturday, May 6 in West Rutland, rugby fans from all over the state descended on a field outside of town for a day of hard tackles, mooseburgers and fundraising for a good cause. The event: The Keith Page Memorial Rugby Invitational.
Rugby, the raucous cousin of what we Americans call soccer, originated in 19th century England in the “market town” of Rugby, Warwickshire. A student at a public school named William Webb Ellis broke the rules of a game of football by picking up the ball and running with it. The sport caught on and today, rugby follows soccer (known everywhere else in the world as football) as one of the most widely played sports in the world with highly competitive teams in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 2016, the rugby community celebrated as their sport returned to the world stage as part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
And it’s found a home in Vermont with teams throughout the state. While not every school has a sanctioned team, many offer it as a club sport at the local or collegiate level.
In a friendly jest to their cousin sport, players describe soccer as “a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, while rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”
Rules are referred to as “laws” and the referee is to addressed as “sir” at all times. Only one captain on each side may speak to him.
“It’s like no other sport in that it’s the most elegant form of violence that you could possibly do to somebody and be still legal,” said Jeff Whipple, a player with 15 years experience from Vershire. “And the fun part is though you may beat the heck out of each other on the field, afterwards everyone shakes hands. It’s a really social sport.”
Rutland Rugby Club member Maxx Steinmetz watched the play throughout the day from the sidelines with one hand wrapped in a cast — the result of an injury sustained during practice. While being tackled, his hand was pinned under him, breaking the metacarpals. On Saturday, he said he only had two more weeks with the cast and then could start physical therapy. While the sport he loves isn’t exactly something the doctor would approve of, Steinmetz said “I’ll be surprised if I’m not playing.”
Players and coaches all elaborated stories about a culture of loyalty and comraderie that comes with the game. “Thanks to these guys, I’ll never have to worry about getting help moving,” Kyle Thompson, a player with the Black River Rugby Club.
By the end of the day, the Rutland Rugby Club battled their way to the to the top.
Teams from Bennington, Ludlow, West Lebanon, and Keene, New Hampshire attended to tournament, which raised a total of approximately $2,000 for the Rutland County Women’s Network & Shelter. Rutland rose through three games, beating the Black River Rugby club 7-0 and tying with with Monadnock Wolfpack Rugby to advance to the final.
The last time Rutland played Upper Valley in the fall, they suffered a devastating loss. The final game’s win the first time the Roosters won the tourney in four years.
“We played with heart today,” Roosters head coach Tom Edwards said after the 19-7 conclusion. “The boys played with heart. We gutted it out. That was the difference this time.”
Disclosure: Maxx Steinmetz is a former graphic designer for the Mountain Times.
Photo by Evan Johnson
Rutland Rugby Club member Jeff Whipple drives an Upper Valley player to the ground in the tournament final.