Girls rugby misunderstood, both in rules and injuries

Posted 10/1/11

Girls rugby in the south metro Denver area refuses to go away. Some teams will have increased numbers from year to year, and others have to pull up …

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Girls rugby misunderstood, both in rules and injuries


Girls rugby in the south metro Denver area refuses to go away.

Some teams will have increased numbers from year to year, and others have to pull up tents altogether, but the sport is always around and available to the high school-age female student athletes in the area.

Chaparral, Mountain Vista and Castle View high schools in Douglas County each serve as host to a co-operative CHSAA sanctioned club, which includes the other schools in their respective communities.

Each of those teams play each other in the same league. The team SWARM, also in the league, collects girls from the Chatfield area, which has absorbed some of the girls left over since the close of Littleton High School’s girls rugby club.

In addition, as interest grows, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District offers a girls rugby program for Littleton-area youths.

Understanding the game

While the lineup of teams may change from time to time, the rules and stigma that surround girls rugby don’t. Being a full-contact sport without any protective padding, rugby lends itself to criticism as a high-injury sport. This is one area where education of people outside the know is needed.

“Medical studies say the injury rate is comparable to soccer,” said Chaparral coach Tom Dill, who has coached the sport nearly 18 years. “It’s under the injury rate of football. It’s really not that dangerous a game. ... Yes, it’s a full-contact sport, but there’s a lot that goes into it.”

Chaparral’s team includes players from other Parker schools like Legend and Ponderosa. The Wolverines have a majority of underclassmen on the roster of 23 girls. Only four seniors are on the roster this time around.

On the Wolverines’ team, the coach said his players are about evenly split between being multi-sport athletes and girls who only play rugby. When new players come to the team, Dill said getting them to learn the many rules of the sport is one of the biggest struggles.

“They don’t have much problem picking up the contact part, but there are a good number of [rules],” Dill said. “The women’s game is more technically proficient, because they can’t get away with brute force and ignorance like the men’s game, which is one way of looking at it.”

Hailey Howell, a player with Castle Rock Rugby, said after three years, she still doesn’t know all the rules of the sport. She said rugby has so many little nuances to it, it is possible for a player to never know everything about the sport, and adapting quickly is a must.

Another important point for girls rugby and its new players is learning how to tackle properly. However, once a player has it down, she generally doesn’t have a problem with it from then on.

“It takes a little time to get everyone up to speed, but first its about learning to hit and take a hit,” Dill said.

Proper training, especially proper tackling techniques, is what keeps the injury rate so low for a full-contact sport.

“It’s not as rough as you think,” Howell said. “We are taught how to play in a clean way. In football, you tackle anywhere, but in rugby, we’re taught to tackle at the waist.”

Howell has played rugby three years and fell in love with the sport for being different than any other. She also said it doesn’t have the drama that can infect some other sports. It’s just about playing rugby, she said.

Dill said one way rugby is unique is there is no difference in the rules between the boys and girls games. The rules, field and ball size are equal.

“Rugby gives girls the opportunity to play a full-contact sport, which is one of the very few they have available to them,” Dill said.

One would also think rugby is a game for brute size. Dill said the contrary. In fact, there’s a position on the field for every size and shaped individual, he said. Howell said her team has cheer, pom and track athletes on it, but usually rugby tends to attract soccer players. Two girls on the Castle Rock Rugby team are even in the school choir.

“It’s a very unstereotypical sport,” Howell said.

Sticking with it

One struggle for the sport in general is player retention. With the influence of other preps sports, some multi-sport athletes are pressured to make a decision to stick to only one athletic outlet.

Rugby only helps a multi-sport athlete with their conditioning, a benefit for their other teams as well. Dill said he once had a swim coach tell one of his multi-sport players that if she got hurt playing rugby, she would be cut from the swim team.

“That kind of mentality doesn’t serve anyone,” the Wolverines’ coach said. “They are in that much better shape, and they are good to go. Part of it is a need for educating parents and other coaches.”

Howell feels one struggle for rugby is its lack of notoriety in the state and most of the nation. She said rugby is still considered a “foreign” sport, and it makes it hard to get new girls to try it.

“If more people knew about it, it would grow more,” Howell said.

Dill said popularity for the sport grows with exposure and knows new spectators would enjoy the game if they attend.

“It doesn’t matter if its our team or someone else’s, there are enough around to watch and learn,” Dill said. “It’s a great sport in general and a whole lot of fun. Even if you don’t know it, it’s still fun to watch.”

Mountain Vista is the host school for Ranch Rugby. The team’s jerseys have the Mountain Vista logo on them, but only because there used to be separate teams between the school in that community.

Filling a need

The Littleton area can benefit from both boys and girls rugby programs offered by South Suburban. Other teams in the area use the fields managed by the district, but with the growth of interest, leading to the erection of the Infinity Park, the state’s only rugby-specific stadium, in Glendale, South Suburban felt it had to answer the call.

“Some factors we considered were the start of the clubs in Glendale and that it is an easy sport to offer along with the help of USA Rugby and the grassroots efforts to expose the sport to people,” said Allison Boyd, South Suburban’s recreation program and facility supervisor. “We can’t be everything for everyone, but if we see an interesting offering and feel that people will respond to participating in it, then we will offer it.”

Since South Suburban doesn’t have the critical mass to operate its own league, the district has partnered with USA Rugby and other agencies involved. It coordinates schedules with them, Boyd said.

“It is an exciting game that requires little equipment and can be played on any area of grass for fun,” she said.

More information on what South Suburban has to offer is available at or contacting program coordinator Reed Davis at

For more information on youth rugby and the teams in Colorado, visit


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