Editor’s Note: Former England international rugby player and coach Ed Robinson, who was also a CSULB professor, will be updating us regularly on rugby here in the Long Beach area.
What is rugby? Rugby is the 2nd most popular game in the world (after soccer) and it is also the historical forerunner of our Grid Iron football. It was established in 1823 at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England when a student, William Webb Ellis, “with fine disregard for the rules “ outrageously, picked up the ball and ran with it during a football (soccer) game. An opponent tackled him and the idea caught on.
The original rugby ball, a pig’s bladder, was spherical but was eventually replaced by an oval, leather ball. The first recorded rugby match in America was in 1874 between Harvard and McGill University. History records that in the 1880s a star rugby player from Yale named Walter Camp pioneered rule changes that slowly transformed rugby into the new game of American football.
There are similarities in the two games such as passing, kicking and running into the end zone to score a “try” (touch down) but the addition of helmets and protective padding, coupled with the yardage rules, has encouraged head-on and more violent tackling in football.
Football also added many more players than rugby’s 15 who play attack and defense with hardly any time-outs.
It could be argued, therefore, that rugby is a much faster and entertaining game but, because of little promotion or funding, it has not yet gained such popularity.
Ironically, because of the increased awareness of football head injuries such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), several football coaches are now adopting the less dangerous (head to the side) rugby tackle.
Why Long Beach? Because of football injury concerns here in America, there has recently been an exponential upsurge in rugby and we are very fortunate that Long Beach is the home of arguably USA’s best team, Belmont Shore Rugby Club.
The club was first established here by Stu Ledsam, a Seal Beach resident, the current club president and John Morris who now manages Boathouse by the Bay.
Building on their initial enthusiasm and supported by perennially strong CSULB teams, as well as several international players and coaches, the club has gone from strength to strength and has won the USA National Championship several times.
Spectators who have attended games regularly comment on the athleticism, skill level, fitness, team spirit and sportsmanship of the Belmont players.
Possibly even more impressive is the interest and potential shown by an increasing number of local young players who are undoubtedly staging a “rugby revolution” here in Long Beach.
There are now more than 400 boys and girls (5-18 years) regularly playing and practicing in our local parks.
They are coached and nurtured by a group of extremely talented/dedicated international coaches who, from the outset, emphasize the importance of team work, citizenship and respect. The benefits of this program stretch way beyond the playing field and we look forward to seeing their almost guaranteed future success.
We hope that some of our readers will come and check out Belmont Shore rugby. The next home game will be 1 p.m. at CSULB on Saturday, Feb. 23, versus Life West. Admission is free.
Ed Robinson is the Sun’s rugby columnist.