Rugby players more than meet the eye

When people think “rugby” most think of huge rugged jocks that would destroy anything in their path.

However, after traveling for eight hours with the FIU men’s rugby team to and from Tampa, I found myself oddly mistaken.

They physically fit the stereotype, yet they are far more than muscles. Not only do they have kind personalities, but they deliver themselves with such great passion on and off the field.

The men were headed to face the University of South Florida for a shot at qualifying in their final game against University of Central Florida.

The trip began by team captain, Kyle Gilbert, taking a head-count.

Some teammates were unfortunately missing due to previous arrangements such as work and family.

While on the road the team quickly began reviewing certain plays to focus on. They also argued what was best for the team, as far as substitutions and starters.

Then, it was time for “pump up” music, and to my surprise, Michael Buble’s Feeling Good filled the air. Everyone began to sing along happily and excited for what was to come.

Muhammad Ali’s motivational speech came next and it resonated deep with the team as they pumped their fists in the air and recited along with eyes focused.

Finally at USF, we were welcomed by the USF rugby team having a rigorous warm up, a “form of intimidation” I was assured. FIU settled in and one by one began to stretch. USF was packed with coaches, fans, trainers and more players than FIU.

Yet none of the Panthers looked worried or concerned, even when they were missing their coach. Gilbert, began leading warm ups as soon as the rest of the team arrived on the field.

The team looked fierce and ready to play.

There was so much to look out for, between kicks, passes, lifts and tackles, that I felt sorry for the ref. I noticed why conditioning was very important to these guys. For those who didn’t know; even when a player is tackled to recover the ball, the game does not stop. Other teammates have the opportunity to recover the ball from the man down and continue running.

All, while wearing little to no body protection at all. This was different from your average football game. You couldn’t keep your eyes off the game because the ball kept flying back and forth from team to team. Each tackle felt harder than the last; after being laid out by multiple 200 plus pounds guys the players kept getting back up and running. Most came out hurt, scratched or bleeding, yet no one complained or even noticed. Therefore, rugby happens to be one of the most interesting sports to watch.

Even the bench began to be overly excited as they saw their teammates destroying USF. Argentina is very well represented in the FIU rugby team, so most of the plays and calls by the teammates were in Spanish. Having USF players extremely confused and the coaches very amused.

Even with the upset, USF congratulated FIU and invited them to the traditional post-game social. I think it’s safe to assume that this could be every rugby player’s favorite part of the game. As soon as FIU walked into the PJ Dolan’s Irish Pub things began to get rowdy. Both teams celebrated the game as if both of them had the victory. Man of the match was named, and USF had its own personal award a tacky pop art shirt for their best player.

Said shirt fit him three sizes too small, yet he wore it with pride along with his cowboy hat. Both teams joined at the stage and sang songs that are a bit too explicit for the general public, which made them all that more exciting.

But they were happily dancing around the pub and sharing stories. It was a Saturday afternoon filled with wings, beer and good friends celebrating a game they’re passionate about; which is some of the best moments in sports.

I’ve been covering the men’s rugby team for these past two seasons, and they have definitely proven themselves to be dedicated and hardworking with this trip.

Being an unpopular sport, they go through financial struggles to keep their team alive, yet they manage.

This season has brought a few new players; even as rookies they talk as if they’ve been playing this game all their lives. Some have even considered taking this game as a career by joining the pro leagues.

All this effort has landed them in second place in the state with the conference championship almost at their fingertips.

Which is way more than we can say about other teams that have more than enough resources for their sport.


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