Not a hooligan’s game for these rugby warriors

Surrey's Alex Mueller says rugby's public perception can change if people watched it and loved it like she does.

Boys Rugby got underway on Friday at South Surrey Athletic Park

Boys Rugby got underway on Friday at South Surrey Athletic Park

“They generally think we’re ruffians,” said Jodie Cornell, coach of the girls’ Fraser Valley (Zone 3) rugby team at the 2012 BC Summer Games, on the public perception of the sport in North America. “[People think] it’s just a crazy sport where we run around hitting each other… a lot of parents see it as a barbarian sport without rules.”

17-year-old Alex Mueller of Surrey plays wing and sweep (fly-half) and has personal experience with this perception of her favourite sport.

“My parents wouldn’t let me play at first… I broke my ankle a whole bunch of times playing soccer so they were afraid for me,” said Mueller. “They trusted me to not hurt anyone, but they didn’t trust everybody else. They thought people might tackle my head or something.”

“Rugby’s high contact… although it’s rough, it’s very structured,” said coach Cornell. “We teach the girls from an early age proper form going into contact, [or] a tackle.”

“If you’re making a tackle, your shoulders are always above your hips, in a squat, aiming for the other person’s thighs and wrapping your arms around… [going] to deck with that person. It’s illegal to hit someone football-style, to just bosh them.”

Players are also taught how to fall and how to take a hit.

“If you’re the person being hit, you’re braced coming into contact,” said Cornell. “You know you’re being hit around the mid-section, so you’re aiming to get your knees to your hip to your shoulder down in a flowing motion.”

This so-called “hooligan’s sport” actually has very specific rules about what is and what isn’t allowed. “Anything above the shoulder is going to be called [by the referee],” noted Cornell. “You’re not allowed to whip somebody by their jersey, no arm bars, no punches or anything like that… there has to be both bodies connected. You can hit from any side, but you have to be coming from an onside position so people always know they are generally coming from the front unless you make a break.”

“It looks out of control if you don’t know what’s going on but the contact is very structured,” the coach added.

In Mueller’s case, she was eventually able to make her parents come around.

“I just decided one day to go to a practice without telling them,” she said. “I told them ‘I love it, I’m going again,’ and they just respected it.

“They’re both here today, and they support me fully. They said they like watching rugby better than soccer,” she said, noting that her rugby injuries have been comparably minimal, only dislocating a finger once.

Mueller said there is a sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship in rugby, even with members of opposing teams.

“You make a tackle, and they just stand up and say ‘that was a good tackle, you destroyed me.'”

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by Gurpreet Kambo

(BC Summer Games news service)

Surrey North Delta Leader