Women’s rugby team not afraid to play rough



By Elizabeth Weber

Contact sports like hockey and football have long been male-dominated sports, labeled too “violent” and too “rough” for women.

However, the Illinois Women’s Rugby Football Club would argue differently, as they begin the spring season with enough bruises and injuries among the players to prove otherwise.

“I think it’s lame that guys get football and wrestling, while girls get volleyball and cheerleading,” said Lauren Bowers, rugby player and sophomore in Engineering.

Established as a club sport at the University in 1975, the team has been an outlet for young women looking for a more aggressive, fast-paced sport than the limited offerings they usually receive.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “I’m a contact-sport person,” said captain Jackye Peretz, senior in LAS. “You do a lot of rough tackling, but you also have to think about what’s going on while running for 40 minutes at a time.”

    Even with all the physicality required to play rugby, many might be surprised that the players all differ greatly in size, including Jessica Nowicki, sophomore in LAS, who is only five feet tall.

    “I always assumed it was a sport played by big women and big men,” she said. “But that’s not really true.”

    Also small in stature, captain Jo Rinaldi, senior in ACES, surprisingly has seen far worse brutality playing other sports. She said she has gotten more injuries while competing in track and field.

    “Honestly, the worst injury I have ever gotten in rugby was a big, swollen ear,” she said.

    Bowers said she embraces her injuries and gets excited when she receives a bruise or bleeds a bit.

    Besides hearing taunts about women not being able to play rough sports, the girls have also had to deal with other stereotypes commonly associated with female athletes.

    “The major stereotype is that we are either butch or lesbians,” Bowers said. “That’s not always the case.”

    Currently ranked No. 3 in the Midwest Rugby Football Union, under the guidance of Coach John Gow, the team hopes to qualify for the national level this season.

    The Midwest Union opponents include the University of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan club teams.

    The Illinois team also plays for the Illinois Rugby Football Union with club teams from ISU, SIU and Western.

    With a roster of 40 girls, the team can thank its success to not only good skills and efficient coaching, but to a camaraderie shared among the players.

    “This is my social circle too,” Rinaldi said. “Almost all my friends in college are on the team.”

    Rinaldi has experience playing against professional women’s rugby teams in New Zealand, where the sport is wildly popular. Even though the popularity has not quite caught on in the U.S. yet, she does not see a major difference in the levels of competition. She believes that Illinois is equally competitive.

    Although rugby remains obscure among popular sports in the U.S., unlike baseball and football, she feels that it will eventually receive its dues, especially for women’s leagues and unions.

    For more info on the team and upcoming matches, visit http://www.illinoiswomensrugby.org.

    A little more about rugby:

    • History: Although greatly debated, it was believed to have started in 1823 by William Webb Ellis, who unconventionally would play football (soccer) by picking the ball and running with it in Rugby, England. Rugby is often called the father of American football.
    • Number of players on the field: 15 for each team
    • Size of field: 110 yards long by 75 yards wide.
    • Length of game: Two 40-minute halves.
    • Positions: Forwards, the bigger players, and fullbacks, the smaller, faster players.
    • Scoring: Similar to a touchdown in football, but worth five points.
    • Conversion: Similar to a kick after a touchdown in football, but worth two points.
    • Penalty kick: Taken after a violation and taken at point of violation. Also worth three points.
    • Drop goal: Similar to a field goal, but is taken anywhere from the field during play. Also worth three points.
    • Interesting fact: 25 percent of rugby players in the U.S. are women.

    Source: Old Mission Beach Athletic Club