RUGBY: The “gentleman’s game played by hooligans”

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Jesse Whiteman, Staff Writer

Scrums, rucks, echelons, and a friend by her side, Great Falls High School junior Myranda Kelleher brought her passion to Great Falls: rugby.

“People who aren’t educated think it’s football,” Kelleher said about the second most popular sport in the world. “It’s its own sport.”

She said that it frustrates her when people show up to practices and play rugby like it is football with a bigger ball and four more players on the field.

She said that before she was a captain on the rugby team, she did another physically intensive sport.

“I used to wrestle so I wanted to try something new,” Kelleher said.

She and her friend, Spokane Valley High School junior Sarah Torres, went online and researched any sports that could be appealing to them, she said. Eventually the duo found rugby, which at the time was not an available sport in Great Falls.

“People in Missoula were interested,” she said when she was trying to see if anyone wanted to start a rugby club in town. The club also gets donations from the Sheriff’s Department and other groups from around town.

“We have a lot of support from [the] Uptown Optimist club,” she said.

Rugby is a sport that both genders can partake in and junior Austin Johnson did not pass on the opportunity his freshman year.

“I was the first to sign up,” Johnson said. “By the end of the season, I was the only one to show up.”

Johnson was incapable of playing in the first few games due to a concussion he endured by friends after practice.

“We used to mess around,” he said.

Rugby is family oriented, both Kelleher and Johnson said.

“We are a family,” Kelleher said. “That’s the biggest part of rugby. That’s how rugby works.”

“We incorporate getting to know each other during drills,” said Paris Gibson Alternative High School senior Bailey Law.

“It’s not a one-man sport,” Johnson said.

Kelleher said that there is no hostility because “in rugby everybody gets a chance with the ball.”

Johnson agreed, “There’s no hostility. Just 20 to 30 people trying to learn how to play.”

Law, Kelleher, and Torres were all part of the primary group that brought the game to town. Law said that knowing this is what has kept her going into her third year.

“We put so much work into it,” she said.

The rugby teams gather and practice together at Paris Gibson Alternative High School every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4:30 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. On Mar. 30, they played at Helena Capitol High School in a seven player on seven player tournament instead of the conventional fifteen on fifteen.

Their coach Ox Lee was ecstatic when the very first try (point) in the Great Falls Rugby Club history, but even after all losses he still was pleased.

“It was just a lot of fun,” Lee said about rugby in whole.

He said he grew up in New Zealand where rugby is as popular as football in America, where children are tackling by age seven, and where the intimidation dance of the Haka is performed on the world stage by the international rugby team, the All Blacks.

“I played rugby from when I was five to when I was 23,” he said.

Lee was about to go to South Africa to compete for a branch of the All Blacks, but he was injured before he could leave. That started the end of his rugby career.

He now has to walk with a cane after a workplace injury and is preparing for surgery on his spine, but he is happy with his team.

“It’s a competitive sport, but they’re competitive in the right ways,” Lee said.

“Whether we win or lose, I feel like this will be a good season,” Law said.

“I have never know the score of a game,” Kelleher said. “I encourage everybody to try it.”

“Don’t believe the stereotypes,” Johnson said. “Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.”