Through the entrance gates, down the paved pathway and around the end of the grassy field, Sam Boyd Stadium was no stranger to me. As a UNLV student I had many visits to the stadium for football games. But this was not a football game I would be watching, it was rugby and that was all new to me.
As I made my way down to the end zone and onto the field to watch and photograph, it took me only a few minutes into the first game that I realized I knew absolutely nothing about what was going on.
At first it appeared as a simple game, a combination of soccer and football, but then came the headlocks, the grabs, the ridiculously intense tackles and pile-ups, the pulling of limbs and jerseys. I was utterly confused. The scoring part was easy to catch onto, aside from that however, it appeared to be a complete free-for-all when it came to getting possession of the ball. Then I realized it was exactly like soccer and football but also with a bit of UFC thrown into the mix. The more I watched, the more I caught on to what was taking place and before long my initial impression that rugby was a very strange sport that made very little sense transitioned to the conclusion that it was in fact one of the coolest sporting events I had been to.
It is day two of the 2012 USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament, an event where the top rugby teams from around the world come to compete. 44 rugby games will be played between the 13 competing countries. Flags from around the world spiral in and out of cheering fans and costumes of multiple varieties fill the stands.
For those who will be following up on the final day of the tournament, here are some rugby basics to help you keep up with the games.
Scoring occurs by physically touching the ball to the ground in the end zone. Each ‘touch down’ scores the team 5-points. Conversion plays are made after ‘touch downs’ much like in football, these plays are kicked and worth two points each.
Passing may not be made in a forward motion, unless it is kicked. Players must run the ball down the field toward the end zones, while passing the ball sideways and behind them.
Tackles occur throughout the game. Like football, the team on defense tackles the player with the ball. Although the player with the ball is tackled, the play is not dead, both teams ‘fight’ to get possession of the ball once it is touched down on the ground.
Penalties are by far the most confusing part for me to understand but here’s what I have managed to learn. There are four kinds of fouls: when players leave their feet in what is called a ruck (a tackle), when players don’t release a tackled player, when a player doesn’t release the ball after being tackled or when a player is off sides.
So what’s with the players continuously kicking the ball into the crowd and to themselves? When a foul occurs, the team gets a chance to kick the ball in opposition ten meters back. The players typically kick the ball out of bounds (called ‘into touch’) and are then able to throw the ball in downfield or they do a mini kick to themselves and start running.