For anyone within earshot, the mob of 30 women screaming, "Blood makes the grass grow greener. Kill, kill, kill!" in Winstead Park may have seemed a little frightening. It's the same feeling I had when I accepted the challenge of playing rugby with Boise Nemesis Rugby Club, Idaho's only non-collegiate women's rugby team.
I had the standard stereotypes in mind when I ventured to the park on a chilly evening: ideas of rough tackles and ruthless players. My friends didn't do much to squelch my fears, insisting that I'd be pummeled into the ground. They also made less-than-helpful suggestions, like maybe I shouldn't wear my usual platform heels on the field. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met the lady ruggers. They were genuine, welcoming women who said that practice is usually followed by a cold beer and conversation.
The evening began with a lap around the expanse of grass littered with children's soccer teams. The women ranged in age, with adolescents and those in their mid-40s, and I was relieved to find that the vast majority of the attendees were novices like me. We started with the basics of catching and throwing, which felt a lot like what I'd learned in ballet class. Straight arms and a continuous swinging motion from side to side make catching and throwing a rugby ball--which looks like a slightly irregular, discount-bin version of an American football--a lot different than tossing a baseball.
The oddity of the sport isn't restricted to form. Nemesis coach Laurie Appel explained that rugby is a continuous-action game. Translation: Just because someone has been laid out on the ground doesn't mean the game stops. I witnessed this aspect first-hand when I learned about rucking. Rucking involves offensive players pushing against defensive players, gladiator-style, over the top of the player who has been tackled. It's unnerving at first--especially when the advice given to the tackle-ee is to cover her head and try to not get trampled.
And then there's "mauling," which is essentially moving in a mob. Although it looks like a chaotic mess, there's more skill involved than meets the eye. That goes for everything in rugby--technique is important and key to preventing injury.
Appel explained that rugby can be healthier than sports involving pads and helmets, because there isn't an invincibility complex--the threat of getting hurt is ever-present. I also discovered that this isn't a sport for people who like their space: "tackling" means ending up (face) cheek to (derriere) cheek. As one rugger put it, "Rugby is a very friendly sport."
The team practices Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. There's still time to join in and experience isn't required.
"Our team is about having fun," fundraising coordinator Monica Fabbi said. "If anyone is looking for a rugby team, we want to find them."