Rugby grows in popularity: Hooligans’ game played by gentlemen

| October 10, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Emily Myers

Scrums, rucks, hookers, and props are just some of the things you can see if you find yourself at the Trafford Bridge Soccer Complex on a Saturday afternoon this fall.

Despite the complex’s name, you will be watching something other than soccer, with much more physical contact: rugby.

With the Rugby World Cup 2011 taking place in New Zealand, NBC televised a game between the New Zealand All Blacks and Canada this fall. More than a million people have attended the 40 games in the pool play portion of the tournament.

Rugby is slowly becoming more popular in the United States with more and more club teams popping up across the country. And Pittsburgh is no exception.

“Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen,” said Scott Olmstead, a Division III hooker for the Pittsburgh Rugby Football Club.

The Pittsburgh Rugby Football Club’s two men’s teams and its one women’s team can be found at their home field in Trafford playing teams from Cincinnati, Rochester, and Cleveland.

“At this age I’m still competitive and I like hitting people,” said Derek Neubaubr prop and captain of the Division II team for the Pittsburgh Rugby Football Club.

Rugby is a way for adults to stay competitive in the city while also staying in shape, players said. It is also a chance for the players to let out some aggression because of its high intensity and physical contact, they added.

“I’ve played competitive sports all my life, this is the best thing I’ve ever played,” said Jaime Filipek, or Boo as she is known on the pitch.

Filipek is the Women’s Division II captain and is currently playing with a broken hand. This is her second major injury in the past two years, after breaking her collar bone last season. While injuries can occur, those are Filipek’s only major injuries in her rugby career. She has been playing since she was a freshman in high school at Schenley High School.

“I didn’t miss a game in the first 10 years I played,” said Filipek.

Injuries are not a deterrent for these players, many of whom have sustained their fair share of bruises and stitches.

“I could die walking across the street,” Olmstead said. ”That doesn’t deter me.”

When the Pittsburgh Rugby Club isn’t out on the pitch or at practice, the players are at their day jobs. Many are professionals in the Pittsburgh area.

“We’re not a bunch of meat heads,” said Joe Piszczor who plays hooker for the division II team, and is a financial advisor.

“It intimidates my kids,” said Casey Benson who is a school teacher for the Sto-Rox School District. “You don’t have to be a certain type,” Benson said. “You have to be open to having fun, and a little crazy.”

Players also can be found socializing at Ruggers Pub on 22nd Street in the South Side. All three teams come together after their Thursday practices for a camaraderie that is found in very few other sports. The socialization extends past members of the Pittsburgh Rugby Football Club and includes the teams they play against. After every rugby game is a social, where both teams come together to take part in singing traditional rugby songs as well as talking about the game just played. Even the referee comes to the socials.

“We leave it on the field,” said Piszczor. “Once the game is over we show respect to each other.”

Rugby is more than a sport; it is a culture. Someone who knows this as well as anyone is Dave Birie who is currently getting his masters at Carnegie Mellon University. This will be his longest stay in any one place since graduating from West Point. “I’ve played everywhere I’ve been,” said Birie.

“It does brand you,” said Piszczor. “My friends say, ‘Joe, the Rugby guy.'” Self proclaimed adrenaline junkie and rookie Tom Wright has started to learn the game of Rugby and the culture that accompanies it. “It’s a lifetime move for me,” he said.

Category: Fall 2011, Living

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