We hear it all the time in sports, “it’s more than just a game.” Rugby is no different. It is blood, sweat, and tears; it’s commitment, hard work, and sacrifices. It is a competition. A competition in skill, teamwork, strength, and fitness; and fitness is key.

A typical game is 80 minutes long with one brief halftime stoppage. There are 15 players from each team on the field at one time, and each team can have up to seven substitutes. Players that sub off the field are not permitted to re-enter the game; therefore, fitness is very important. Most starting players play the entire game. Rugby players not only need good stamina; they also need to have endurance and strength from their necks to their ankles. Although sprinting and running are a given, what sets the fitness required in a rugby game apart from that of other sports is the tackling. Unlike football, where there is a stoppage after each tackle and each dropped ball, a rugby game continues on. Both the tackling and tackled players must get up immediately and continue to play; this adds a challenging aspect to the physical and mental fitness involved that sets rugby apart from other team sports.

In Edmonton, due to the long winters, the rugby season only runs from May to September; but any rugby player will tell you that they are more fit in those four months than they are all year. Players practice twice a week and play at least 1 game a week. Keeping up cardiovascular endurance and their strength training is important. Players find that they are faster, stronger, tougher, and more confident than when they first started.

It’s a bit if of a cliché, but it is 100 per cent true when someone says that there is a rugby position for everyone. Regardless of size or ability. Unlike other sports, where a particular body type is preferred for athletes, a rugby team needs athletes that are big and strong just as much as it needs athletes that are small and fast. Big and strong players are needed for scrums, tall players are great in line-outs, and small, speedy players make excellent backs. What one needs to get started in the sport of rugby are determination, resilience, and effort. The fitness and the skill will come, inevitably. If you were not fit before joining, you can be sure that you will be by the time you leave. New players are often hesitant to try rugby because it is a full-contact sport. Although contact sports are not for everyone; most people that give rugby a chance stay part of the rugby community for years and years to come.

Rugby is much more than “just a game”. However, it is a game, and it is a game that is dynamic, physical, inclusive, and fun to play. I love rugby because being a good rugby player isn’t all about speed or strength or skill; it’s about heart, hustle, and tenacity.  It’s about running without fear, taking down someone twice your size, getting up when you’re down, and pushing until the 80th minute.  It’s about supporting your teammates, chasing down every ball, and giving everything in the scrum. The game can take someone that is timid and unsure, and turn them into someone that is confident and fearless.

Aside from the game itself, one of the best things about rugby is the camaraderie. I began playing rugby 11 years ago and my closest friends today are still those I learned to play rugby with all those years ago. I have made countless friendships along the way.  Any rugby player, from any club, anywhere in the world will tell you that there is no bond like the bonds formed by rugby teammates. A rugby club is a family; whether you are a rookie, veteran, or alumnus, you will always be a part of the club, and the members of the club will always have your back. Each year I have played, I have met incredible people, from all walks of life, that I know I can count on both on and off the pitch.

Beyond the training and the competition, the culture and sportsmanship embedded in rugby is like no other.  Rugby can be seen as violent and intimidating, but at its core, it is a sport that is about respect, gamesmanship, and integrity as much as it is about the backwards pass. Over the last decade, rugby has had a huge impact on the person I’ve become.  Not because of where the sport has taken me, but what the sport has given me: friends to last a lifetime, discipline, dedication, fearlessness, confidence in my own strengths and abilities, leadership and teamwork skills, and opportunities to be a part of a community that is much bigger than a game; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you are looking for a fun and competitive activity over the summer in Edmonton, rugby is the sport for you! There are rugby clubs all across the city that offer programs for men, women, and kids of all ages!

Angela Lieu – Edmonton Rugby Football Club