Men’s rugby A&M hopes to return to the field | Sports
The Texas A&M rugby team are looking to avenge the abrupt end of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 as the team were on their way to dominating the national championship.
The A&M rugby team was formed in 1968 and is part of the Red River Conference with schools like Baylor, Texas Tech, LSU, and Oklahoma. A&M coach James Lowrey said the team had not been able to schedule games so far this season, but would have games this summer.
Last year’s squad were in California for their spring tour – interconference matches to prove their standing against tougher opponents like Santa Clara and Cal Poly – before 2020 shutdowns ended the season . Since then, Lowrey has said the May games are the first to be provisionally approved, and the team are awaiting final college approval for the club’s games.
“They had the potential to finally form a varsity team and win a championship [in 2020], and it was stolen from them after all the work they did, ”Lowrey said. “I was heartbroken that they didn’t see this.”
Since they haven’t been able to plan for their opponents, the team has focused only on what they can control, Lowrey said.
A major change was to practice in cohorts of 10 while wearing masks. Senior center and team co-captain Will Green said training with these restrictions has made practice extremely difficult given that rugby is a contact sport.
Sophomore Manu Zapata, graduate student Mikey Miller and team president Dutch Patterson are all players. Lowrey said he expects to lead and be the backbone of the team. With 18 seniors back on a 50-man squad, Lowrey said the experience – and the break – is the fuel to win.
“The same guys who were green last year have another year under their belt, and as an athlete all you need is time to get the penny rolling,” Lowrey said. “Immerse yourself in COVID[-19] experience and these guys are not only talented, but hungry and significantly better.
Coaches can dictate their team schedule with 6-8 interconference games and more outside of conference games. Lowrey said the national championship is like March Madness; win a conference, then move on to bigger playoffs. A&M reached last year’s conference finals and was scheduled to play in Oklahoma when COVID-19 called it all off.
Although it hasn’t had as many followers in the United States, rugby is gaining more and more followers through club teams at schools like A&M and the University of Texas. Rugby is played internationally, but is most popular in New Zealand, Wales, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Georgia and Madagascar, where it is the national sport.
South Africa and New Zealand are the two national rugby powers. Their national teams each have three World Cup victories, the most from each country. Lowrey, from New Zealand, noted that basketball players go better at rugby than American football because of their understanding of space and lateral movement.
Rugby was established in 1823 at the Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. Each team has 15 players on the field. Eight players in the close scrum, similar to what an offensive lineman would be in American football, and seven players scattered all over the field called backs, which is like a skill post in football. The game consists of two 40-minute halves; timeouts can be requested either when the ball is dead or by the team in possession of the ball.
Points are scored in three ways. A try is the most common and is when a team puts the ball on the ground in the goal area, such as in the end zone. After that, a conversion kick can be converted for two more points. Penalty kicks or drop goals are both worth three points. A drop kick is when a team bounces the ball off the ground and hits it through the field goal. Players can only pass the ball to the side or back and once tackled a player must release the ball.
“I just want to play,” said Manu Zapata, a second year half-student at Fly. “And now that it looks like we can do it, it makes me want to do it all and let go of everything I’ve held back for a year.”
This summer, the team is working with Old brown, a Texas A&M Rugby nonprofit support group, to raise funds for travel to post-season national tournaments and tours. Follow the rugby team and schedule updates on http://www.aggierugby.com/schedule.