Social distancing: Rugby’s handicap

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

Since the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, the University of Dallas Rugby Club has been preparing for its season in a peculiar way – the team must practice without any physical contact. According to Jacob Warila, a sophomore member of the Rugby Club, it was not the school who made the decision, but the USA Rugby Football Union.

“[USA Rugby] ha[s] prescribed stages of safe play,” Warila said. “We are in stage three which means there is no contact allowed under their rules.” The club must adhere to USA Rugby rules. According to their website, USA Rugby describes themselves as “the national governing body for the sport of rugby in America.” So, how does rugby work without contact? 

Junior Damien Walz, President of the UD Rugby Club, commented on the issue. 

“The rules of the Groundhog Pledge have been followed closely,” Walz said.  Elaborating on what the current contact-free practices look like, Walz said they focus on“conditioning … [and] technical work such as passing, defensive positioning and offensive attack.” 

Warila argues that “clearly we can do rugby practice with minimal-to-no contact by practicing defensive positioning and passing.” One still wonders how a team can improve as a whole without being able to legitimately scrimmage or play other teams. How can a team measure their improvement or competence without team competition? 

Fortunately, the rugby team does not seem too disheartened by the restrictions. 

“We are all together on this front,” Walz reported. “It’s a difficult and frustrating situation … but we’re making the most of it.”

One can understand how the team feels helpless, because the decision is one that they cannot influence or change. The rugby team members are grateful to be able practice and bond as a club, whether or not they can play games this season. 

Walz reported an even more careful approach in practices after the baseball team went into quarantine. 

“We got even more intense after the baseball situation.”

Around Oct. 14, the UD baseball team was forced into quarantine after experiencing an outbreak of coronavirus cases. Most of the players declined to comment on the situation. It is notable that baseball, which does not require close contact, even in actual gameplay, experienced an outbreak before contact sports like rugby. 

It seems paradoxical that a rugby team could exist during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since rugby depends on not only skill and teamwork, but also of the physical contact used to progress the ball forward. 

Stripping away physical contact from the sport of rugby changes it into something else; it is no longer practiced as the same sport. Without a vaccine, many players wonder if USA Rugby will continue to enforce contact-less practice until the end of 2021.

The essential aspect of a sport exists in competing with other teams and players. The necessary social distancing in sports raises questions of how accurately teams can practice and prepare to compete until this pandemic has passed. Crowds love sports because of the unpredictability and uncertainty of the outcome of the game. Sports seem to be the last popular form of entertainment which does not require staged behavior. If genuine competition is taken out of games, the whole sport is impared. However, as seen in the rugby team, there is still room for development, even if that development has some serious setbacks.   

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