BYU ahead of the game in the country’s fastest-growing sport

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Senior center Seki Kofi shakes a Glendale defender at home on March 1. Photo by Maddi Dayton
Senior center Seki Kofi shakes a Glendale defender at home on March 1, 2015. Rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports and BYU’s team consistently performs well. (Maddi Dayton)

It can be hard to be a BYU fan when it comes to sports. The Cougars have incredible teams that come up just short in tournament play. In football, basketball and baseball, it often seems to be the same story. But with rugby, it’s different.

BYU’s rugby team has shown dominance over the past five years as it has demolished opponents on its way to winning four of the last five national championships. With such success, the rugby team has stirred up a lot of interest and excitement about the game itself.

“I went to my rugby game my freshman year with a group of friends from my dorm,” said Jake Cleverly, a junior studying accounting. “I’ve been hooked ever since. I always look forward to spring for two reasons: the warmth and rugby.”

According to a Bloomberg Business report, rugby participation has increased by 14 percent each year over the past five years. This climb has resulted in more than 1.2 million rugby participants throughout the country.

Sophomore Josh Larson grew up playing football in Riverton, but his junior year of high school he stopped playing football and started playing rugby. “There were a lot less people at my games when I decided to switch over to rugby,” Larson said. “But even without the crowd there was something about the continuous game play and hard-hitting in the sport that made me never want to go back.”

Newcomers can feel some confusion when watching the game; but it has similarities to other, more mainstream sports.

“Rugby is like football but better,” said Jonny Linehan, a junior studying finance, and a rugby all-American. “You score by getting the ball into the end zone and touching it to the ground; this is called a try.”

Tries are worth five points. After a try the team has a chance to kick a conversion for two points, which is the equivalent of an extra point in football. As far as the flow of the game, it combines the high energy and hard hitting of football mixed with the running clock and game flow of soccer.

Rugby started out relatively unknown in the U.S., but according to therugbybowl.com, the rugby world cup is the third-most-watched sporting event in the world, with 3 billion viewers, only behind the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. That’s 3 billion people! The Super Bowl only has around 100 million viewers. With its prominence in other areas of the world, rugby has begun to gain popularity in the U.S. as well.

One reason for its rise in popularity is the game’s nonstop flow. “I love going to watch the BYU rugby team, because the game has all the action of a football game, but it doesn’t take four hours of my day,” said senior Josh Jenson. “The clock doesn’t stop, and it’s just continuous hard-hitting action. It also helps that our team is really, really good.”

The short length of the game isn’t the only reason rugby is growing around the country. The sport’s lack of equipment makes it easier to play. There are no pads or helmets; all that is needed is a rugby ball and a field. Rugby is also a high-scoring game with plenty of action. Scores in the 40s or 50s aren’t rare in rugby and the Cougars post more than 100 points two or three times a season.

As rugby continues to grow in popularity around the country, the best time to jump in on the action is now. And with the best collegiate team in the country representing BYU, there is no reason not to take a Saturday afternoon and see what all the buzz is about.

On Sept. 1 and 2 starting at 5 p.m., walk-on tryouts for BYU’s rugby team will be held at Helaman Field. Any full-time BYU student is eligible to tryout for the 2015-16 team.

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