Time to Get Your Scrum On

    The year was 1823, and a young ruffian named William Webb Ellis grew tired of conforming to the simplistic, one-dimensional rules that dominated the game of soccer at the time. So this brash young visionary plucked the ball from the pitch and ran downfield with the ball tucked snugly beneath his arm.

    The other players stared on in disbelief at this hooligan’s actions, wondering if perhaps he had been patronizing the local pub prior to the game.

    What they were unaware of was that they were witnessing a special moment in the history of sport. A whole new game had just been laid bare before their very eyes. It was to be named after the very school at which they were playing. That school was the Rugby School of England.

    Yes, rugby — the brutal, eye-gouging, scrum-busting sport came to be on that very square of pitch that very day. The game of rugby soon caught on at a much larger scale as Cambridge University adopted the sport and created a local set of rules. By 1871, the sport had been formalized, when a professional league was established in London.

    From there it spread across the globe like the bubonic plague, intriguing toned athletes and bloodthirsty prisoners alike. Here in the United States, the game initially caught on primarily on the West Coast. It slowly established itself and looked on course to join the mainstream sports such as baseball, when a pixellated tragedy killed any hopes of an American pro league. Violent photographs of a rough-and-tumble tilt between Swarthmore and Pennsylvania were brought to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt.

    His outrage resulted in the alteration of the rules of the traditional rugby game, which led to the introduction of the forward pass and other changes, until it finally morphed into the game of football that we know today. While the true game is still played elsewhere around the globe, one of the only places that you will find the game stateside is on the green grass of its college campuses, including one tucked away down in La Jolla, Calif.

    The UCSD rugby program has enjoyed a long and storied history. The fact that the sport could be played with no more of an investment than the purchase of the ball was what first made the game appealing to the Tritons, but it was the intense game play, ample scoring and the opportunity for anyone to play that helped it stick around.

    UCSD boasts both men’s and women’s rugby teams. The men’s squad has been around since 1966 and the women started playing in 1972, but faded away by the late ’70s before returning with a vengeance in 1996. Wearing cleats and lacking pads, these fearless souls each do battle about 10 to 15 times a year, from the warm grass of Warren field to the warmer grasses of the Bahamas and Jamaica.

    The men’s team is one of the oldest club sports on campus and has achieved many things over its heralded tenure. In 1975 it captured the collegiate championship at the Santa Barbara Tournament, which, at the time, was the largest rugby throwdown in the West. Over the years it has traveled near and far with spikes in hand. It has visited the aforementioned green fields of Jamaica, and the not-so-tropical locale of Houston, all in an effort to spread the good word of Triton rugby.

    In 1987, under the charge of Coach Tom Sertic, UCSD grabbed the first of its three successive college division rugby championships. In 1989 the Tritons moved up to the university division, where they took home bragging rights by sweeping the University of San Diego and San Diego State to take home the “”King of the City”” title.

    In the late ’90s, the UCSD program once again came into prominence. In 1996 it auspiciously took home the college division runner-up flag, and two years later, the Tritons took it all home — winning the 1998 Division II National Championships.

    Looking to repeat its victory in 1999, the Tritons came up against a fierce Chico State squad. Losing by two tries at halftime, the situation for UCSD looked grim. Yet the team came out in the second half to take not only the lead, but also its second consecutive Division II National Championship.

    After back-to-back championships at the Division II level, the Tritons felt a need for a more serious challenge, so this year they have moved to Division I. Here they hope to experience the same success that they have had at various other levels since the ’70s.

    The UCSD women’s rugby team is also looking to make a name for itself. At the moment, rugby is the fastest-growing collegiate women’s sport, and interest in women’s rugby is at an all-time high.

    At UCSD this is readily apparent, as the women have seen a renewed interest in their matches. They have had big plans since being reinstated in 1996 and they look to see some of these well-laid hopes come into fruition in 2001.

    If you are in the mood for some raw, hard-hitting, volatile sports action, you should head over to Warren field and check out the game for yourself.

    Upcoming matches include Saturday’s battle versus USD for the men, and a women’s tilt on Sunday against UCSB.

    The women hit the field at 11 a.m. sharp. The men suit up at 1 p.m. Be on hand at one of these sure to be thrilling matches to see the bastard child of William Webb Ellis in all of its glory.

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