Michigan Rugby

Submitted by yossarians tree on June 4th, 2011 at 5:47 PM

I am currently watching some of the collegiate Rugby Sevens tournament. What a tremendous, hard-hitting, fast-paced sport. Is this a club sport or varsity? Does Michigan compete at that level? I noticed Penn State and Ohio State have teams that qualified for the 16-team tournament. The sport's dominant team for many years has been the Cal Bears, though last year Utah won. This is also an Olympic sport, and the USA is the reigning Gold Medal team. The coach is on hand today scouting. Check it out, and if anyone has any info on Michigan Rugby, please chime in.



June 4th, 2011 at 6:00 PM ^

I used to play for a team in SE Mich a long time ago and we played against the Michigan Club Team.  Rugby is a fantastic sport once you figure out what the hell you're doing.  Some of the guys I used to play with started creating high school clubs and teaching it to the youth.

I wish it would catch on more and I wish I was still physically able to play.+

Crazy Canuck

June 4th, 2011 at 7:24 PM ^

"I wish it would catch on more and I wish I was still physically able to play.+ """     "  " I totally agree with you here. I watched the movie Invictus last week and I remember how much I love and miss the game. I wish my body would let me play one more season, one more game even. I love football, but rugby is a special game. You get to play offence and defence within moments of each other. God how I miss it. 


June 4th, 2011 at 8:52 PM ^

I think it's an interesting game.  I was in France a few years ago during the Six Nations tournament, and I'm looking forward to the World Cup.  Is that going to be broadcast here? 

As for rugby growing in this country, I don't know how I feel about that.  My concern is that rugby and football would have to draw from the same pool of athletes, and growth in rugby would weaken the quality of football.  I don't know.  Maybe the population is large enough that it wouldn't matter.


June 4th, 2011 at 6:05 PM ^

Its a club sport at michigan, they wouldn't be in this tournament I don't think.  They are a pretty good club team, not as dominant as michigan crew but have made a few runs to the finals in the past 5 years or so.  Interesting note on Cal, they were the dominant team but actually got recently relegated to club status because of the financial issues in the UC system, it upset a lot of people.


June 5th, 2011 at 3:44 AM ^

Cal rugby was supposed to get demoted to club because of financial issues along with a couple other sports, but the mens rugby team raised enough money to self support them and the women at varsity status for like 7 years so Cal decided to let them stay


June 4th, 2011 at 6:26 PM ^


Actually that website is for the Michigan Rugby Football Club (MRFC), which is a club rugby team in the area.  Although that history page will answer some of your questions, the actual website for the University of Michigan Rugby Football Club (UMRFC) is: http://www.soiledmeatandsand.com/ .  I currently play Rugby and it is an absolutely fantastic sport.  I wish it would catch on more as well.  

As for the tournament on television, Michigan can, and has, competed at that level.  A few years ago they finished 2nd in the nation I believe.  However, in recent years they have had a drop off due to talent graduating and some off the field issues.  Hopefully they can return to prominence once again here in the near future.  

Also, as for that tourney--sevens is great, but full 15 rugby is much, much better.  More intense, more hitting, etc.  

Captain Hindsight

June 4th, 2011 at 7:51 PM ^

I have to disagree.  Once I witnessed my first sevens tournament, I could never go back to 15s.  I lived in the South Pacific for a few years where rugby is life - specifically in Fiji where is sevens is the national sport.  I think a good analogy of the difference between a game of 7s and 15s is the difference between a spread offense and a pro style.  One is speed, one is power.

Sevens will make its first appearance in the olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.  I assume that the western half of the country places more emphasis on it due to their polynesian influence.  I believe the captain of the USA national team is a former Oregon WR.  What do we have to do to get it to catch on over here?


June 4th, 2011 at 6:11 PM ^

Rugby is the greatest sport on earth to play.  While soccer is the most popular, combine that with football and you have Rugby.  I played on a local squad and we toured NA, mostly the US) at tournaments.  It was a blast.


June 4th, 2011 at 6:27 PM ^

Undefeated State Champs last year!

Seriously though Michigan does have a club team. I have a friend who plays for it and my former coach played on it. There is a 7s tournament coming up in Kent County and I am pretty sure Michigan will be there because they were last year.


June 4th, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

Absolutely love playing rugby, I played all 4 years while I was at the Coast Guard Academy.  In 2008 we almost played Michigan at the Div II Nationals. I didnt get to see them play because our game was at the same time.  In general rugby is really starting to get popular across the country.


June 4th, 2011 at 7:28 PM ^

I saw the national champs game last year, Cal vs Utah, and I really thought it was a great spectator sport. I felt like it combined the power of football with the speed of something, I don't know, but fast.  ;-) Not only would I like to see more of it, we all will.

There is a big international tourney coming up, a la the World Cup or whatever (maybe the Olympics - I just don't remember what event, but if you do, please chime in). It's a safe bet that the USA will amp it up a little bit for this, like when we really kicked up our soccer efforts leading up to and following the time when we hosted the World Cup.


June 4th, 2011 at 8:16 PM ^

I played a few years for the Michigan Rugby Club. I wish the sport was more popular so there were more teams.

The Rugby World Cup is coming up this fall in New Zealand. That is a 15s format- 15 players a side. The collegiate championship today is 7s. 7s is a much faster, wide open game, but I love 15s.

Rugby is back in the Olympics in Brazil in 2016 as 7s. We are the reigning gold medalists from when it was last played in 1924. No one' beating that streak.


June 4th, 2011 at 8:20 PM ^

TY - It is probably the Olympics that I was expecting to make rugby more popular in the US. I'm figuring all that attention will lead to more club teams and what not.


June 4th, 2011 at 8:38 PM ^

It's such a fun game - a great blend of the contact from football with the stamina from soccer. I never played sevens, but I've watched it and it is certainly faster paced. The only problem I had with 15s is that I felt like most of the points were scored on penalties that I never fully understood - I felt like there are so many rules regarding contact in the ruck

Either way was a great time. The UMRFC is a great group of guys, and the sport was a great way to get back a lot of what I missed about HS football when I was in college. Excited for the World Cup and for the Olympics (and for Argentina to join the tri-nations)


June 4th, 2011 at 8:43 PM ^

And Michigan's club team was really good when I was there. If you're in college and love sports and miss playing football, I highly suggest joining M rugby. Even if you're as much as a novice as I was (and still am) they'll teach you how to play and make you feel welcome as a part of the team.

Roy G. Biv

June 4th, 2011 at 8:52 PM ^

I've played rugby with the Flint Rogues since '95, and it seems to me the U-M club has kinda waffled between a Men's side and university club side.  If anyone can clarify that, please do.  Are there now distinct and separate Men's and Collegiate sides?

winged helmet

June 4th, 2011 at 10:50 PM ^

Does anyone know when rugby and football split and were considered two different sports, both in general and at UM?  I'm sure there's a very interesting history...


June 5th, 2011 at 12:41 AM ^

Rugby split from soccer - football was an American version of...well rugby I guess. So in the 1850s, every school in England and North America had their own version of "football." In the late 1850s the English schools decided to form an association that forbade violent tackling and eventually limited carrying of the ball. The Rugby school broke away. The schools that stayed in the association played "association football," which newspapers in Britain eventually shortened to "assoc" then "soccer."

Other schools that left the association joined with the rugby school to form the "Rugby Football Union," which is why there's a sport called rugby union. This happened in the early 1870s.

Just prior to the rugby union, in 1869, Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate American football game. Up until 1876, every school's football team played under their own rules, and intercollegiate games were played under the rules of the home team. In 1876, a bunch of schools decided to codify the rules, and these rules resembled rugby union, but it was still something distinct. This was the forerunner to the NCAA.

In the 1880s, a guy by the name of Walter Camp felt like football was too disorganized. To make it more organized, he developed the line of scrimmage, which led to downs and distance.

Around the same time, the RFU, in an effort to make the game safer but keep the ball constantly live, made a series of rules limiting how players could tackle and move in the ruck. A series of teams felt that it would be better to do away with the ruck and just give the offensive team five tackles to score until a turnover. Those teams broke away and formed the Rugby Football League. Hence, today there is rugby union - which is more popular worldwide, and rugby league - which is more popular in parts of England and Australia.

So I guess you could say the split happened in the 1880s, but it wasn't ever a formal split - the two were always independent. After football started with the down and distance, they too needed to make the game safer in the early 1900s. This is when limits on pre-snap motion, and 7 players on the line of scrimmage came about. Eventually, the forward pass was allowed as well, and in the 1970s restrictions on pass blocking were changed and pass interference became more stringent - hence "modern" football has really only been around since Bo Schembechler's started walking the Michigan sidelines. Likewise, rugby union and league have continued to evolve since then. However, rugby did formally split with soccer in the 1850s, and rugby itself formally split into union and league in 1890.

I'm channeling an eighth-grade report on the history of football like whoa, so some of what I say may be slightly inaccurate. But I'm pretty sure I've got the basic outline right.


June 5th, 2011 at 3:38 PM ^

One added tidbit: contrary to popular opinion, the term "football" originally referred not to the kicking of the ball, but to the fact that it was played on foot, as opposed to polo.  There are consequently a large number of sports with "football" in their names, which have all derived from the same origins:

-association football (soccer)

-rugby union football

-rugby league football

-gridiron football (with its American and Canadian variants)

-Australian rules football

-Gaelic football


June 4th, 2011 at 11:44 PM ^

I played for Grandville a few years ago. What a great sport. I don't know how many teams give scholarships for rugby but I know Davenport University does, which is cool. I love the growth of the game in the US...maybe we can really compete at a national level once all this young talent grows up.


June 5th, 2011 at 1:29 AM ^

I played on the team for my first semester freshman year in '96 and it was a club team.  Sadly I was not able to go to practice which where super far away from my dorm.  I had played some in high school and then played during business school... rugby rocks, a comraderie like no other sport (I love to watch football the most, but I prefer to play rugby).  

Cal is the monster college team, though BYU and Utah are pretty good as well... It does seem like rugby is getting more and more popularity in the US (though I prefer the full 15 players per side game rather than 7's) which is great.


June 5th, 2011 at 3:00 AM ^

I played when I was in undergrad at UM.  They had both collegians and local men playing.  They had multiple sides (equivalent to 1st string, 2nd string etc.).  I did not know anything about rugby when I joined.  I just wanted a sport similar to football, and I was not good enough to walk on at Michigan.  The members were friendly and happy to teach the game.  As a beginner you would be on the 3rd or 4th side, but you always got to play.  The other team either had a 3rd and 4th side or there would be injuries, other players couldn't make it ...

It was very social.  After practice, everyone would go out for beers.  The home side was required to throw a party after the match for the visiting team.  They would usually coordinate matches with football team.  We played Notre Dame in South Bend then went to a bar to watch the football game afterwards.  It was a lot of fun.  In full disclosure I will mention that it is a VERY physical game.  I played tackle football at a high level and was never injured.  I separated my shoulder playing rugby.  Almost everyone who played rugby for a while had some type of injury.  There is a reason that football players wear pads and helmets.

New Zealand is hosting the Word Cup bginning in a few months.  It will be spectacular.  The quality of teams will be great, and the country is beautiful with very friendly people.  I have been there multiple times and hope to make it for the contests.  If you go, have a Speights Gold Medal Ale. If you can't go, catch some of the matches on TV.  You will love it.  My wife prefers to watch rugby over football.


June 5th, 2011 at 8:34 AM ^

Michigan has both men's and women's teams. Both have been pretty good in recent years (women more recently than the men), however I think the men were suspended from club sports for some off field issues.


June 5th, 2011 at 1:18 PM ^

If you play rugby you should wear a legal 3/8" padded vest. They are optional but most of the guys I play play with wear them in games...usually AFTER they have injured their shoulder. I took up rugby at age 50 and played two years with Nevada (UNR, collegiate, on B side). Fun, but dislocated shoulder, fractured elbow, broken collarbone. I can honestly say however that once I knew what I was doing more, the potential for injury went way down.

J. Lichty

June 5th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

was founded in 1959 as the Ann Arbor Rugby and Cricket Club.  A few of the original members are still around the area.  One of the more famous people who was on the origina club was Boxing reporter Bert Sugar, who still comes back for Olde Boy (alumni) games.

As the name implied, while there was a loose tie to the University, and the player pool did draw from the undergrad student body (including from EMU), grad schools and even many of the ancillary university staff, until around the late nineties, it was a town club.

When I was at M, we did get some money from the club sports budget and it was an official club sport contingent upon keeping a minimum number of students participating.

There were a few all collegiate tournaments we played in each year, including the BigT en tourney, but our union (the league) was comprised of town teams like Grand Rapids, Flint, Detroit RFC, Detroit Tradesmen.  We played clubs from throughout the midwest and country.  We were for a few years a Mens Division I team (pre-Super League).  The team dropped down to Div. II and won a National Championship in 1995.

Eventually, the town team and the college team split.

I have played for many rugby clubs throughout the US and even the world, and my strongest affinity is still for the M club.


June 6th, 2011 at 9:33 PM ^

I play for the Purdue club. We didn't get to play Michigan's A side this year, but our B sides played each other. As of now, I belive Michigan is a Division II team. I think Michigan's women's side was in the final four this spring, if I remember correctly. A majority of the college teams are club sports, with a few being varsity. As someone mentioned before, Davenport has a varsity squad, and they actually won the Division I national championship a few weeks ago.

If you enjoyed watching the Rugby sevens on TV this weekend, there is a Big Ten Sevens Tournament in Madison, WI in late August. I've heard the Big Ten Network might broadcast some of the matches, so you might be able to see Michigan play then. I'd expect Penn State (if they participate, they didn't participate in the Big Ten Tournament for 15s rugby this fall) and Ohio State to perform the best in August simply because of their experience playing in the past two Collegiate Rugby Championships.

On a side note, the only good thing that I could see from not having an NFL season is that more people might watch the Rugby World Cup in September and hopefully help the sport grow. I played football for 6 years and I've played rugby the past 3, and I must say, rugby truly is the greatest sport to play. I could see why many people would prefer to watch football, but choosing between the two to actually play, there's nothing like rugby!