Pitch. Grubber. Break Down. Cap. Maul. Garryowen. Drop Goal. Ruck. Knock On.
If you don’t know this vocabulary, it’s time to do your homework, Olympic sports fans. In Rio, rugby is making an appearance in the Olympic Games for the first time since 1924.
What does that mean to American rugby players? In Charlotte, players are looking forward to coming out of the shadows and gaining some national recognition in the process.
“Once something gets into the Olympics I feel like it gets a lot of funding and it gets a lot more fans,” says Amro Guda, captain of the Charlotte Rugby Club. “So I’m sure that’s something that’s going to trickle down to the club level and more people will come out to our games and rugby will get bigger.”
The Charlotte Rugby Club was founded in 1971 and was the first rugby club in the city. This year marks its 45th anniversary. Momentum for the sport has recently picked up, as more and more people participate. Why is popularity picking up? It’s anybody’s guess: there are no time-outs in rugby, top matches are now being televised in the United States, and it’s highly social. After competing against each other, teams typically meet afterwards to drink, in a tradition called “talk story.”
Michael Felts is head coach of the Charlotte Rugby Club, one of the three current clubs in Mecklenburg County. Felts has watched the sport grow on a local level, but expects a huge increase in recognition and participation with this year’s appearance in the Olympic Games.
“I used to tell people ‘I play rugby’ and they’d ask, ‘Is that the one with the stick and the ball?’” Felts says. “’No, that’s lacrosse.’ But now I say that and everybody knows somebody who plays.”
An Australian transplant in Charlotte, David Conyers, believes Rio will catapult rugby into the American spotlight. “It’s really going to put the game back on the map, especially here in the U.S.,” says Conyers, who is assistant coach of the Charlotte Rugby Club. “A lot of these guys here don’t start playing until high school, so they’ve lost 10 years of skill development…. But the U.S. Sevens men’s and women’s team both do really well in terms of their athleticism and speed, so it’s a game that really suits the American mentality.”
According to Charlotte Rugby Club veteran Brandon Ward, “Eventually rugby is going to wake the beast in America.” The question is, fans — are you ready?