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Rugby: A true military sport

By | June 14, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Rugby Union is a sport that could have been invented for military personnel. Its core ethics are raw physical courage, physical fitness, commitment, teamwork, self-discipline and trust. Just like life in the military, not everyone is suited to rugby but for those of you who proudly wear your country's uniform, there are few, if any sports readily available whose values so closely match the personal traits a man or woman in the armed forces must display on a daily basis. 

In addition to this, rugby has one advantage over all other sports in that it is a true international community. We all know the difficulties associated with moving regularly throughout our careers and how hard it can be to make friends and re-establish the social circles necessary to permit us to function effectively as a professional. Well, rugby clubs are in many ways like an enlarged family as any healthy club like the Anchorage Thunderbirds goes to great lengths to involve families and friends alike, creating an instant circle of friends consisting of players and their families who already have something in common with those newly arrived. 

The Anchorage Thunderbirds were originally created in the mid 1990's by then major, now Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney and are unique in the State of Alaska in that they are a blend of mainly military personnel from both Fort Richardson and Elmendorf AFB together with a healthy dose of players from the local community. They also have a qualified English coach, which combined with a powerful squad this year means that they will be a real force in the competition for the state championship. 

Description: Rugby is played at a fast pace, with few stoppages and a continuous contest for possession. Players wear only limited padding and protection on the field and regardless of position, must be able to run, pass, kick and catch the ball. Likewise, all players must also be able to tackle and defend, making each position both offensive and defensive in nature. There is no blocking of the opponents like in football, and there are only five substitutions per game allowed for each team. A rugby match consists of two 40-minute halves. 

Players and positions: A rugby team has 15 players on the field of play. In rugby, each team is numbered the exact same way. Players numbered 1-8 are forwards (similar in size to linemen and linebackers), who are typically the larger, stronger players of the team whose main job is to win possession of the ball. Players numbered 9-15 are backs, who tend to be the smaller, faster and more agile players. Their main role is to exploit possession of the ball that is won by the forwards. 

Advancing the ball:
There is no blocking in rugby. Rugby does not have downs, and a team is not required to reach 10 yards and stop. Play is continuous even when the ball carrier is taken to the ground. Indeed, this is a key area of the game. 

Scoring: 

Try: Five points are awarded to a team for touching the ball down in the other team's in-goal area. This is much like a touchdown in football. 

Conversion: Following a try, the scoring team receives two points for a successful conversion (similar to an extra point but taken at least 11 yards back in a direct line from where the try was scored). 

Penalty Kick: Following a major law violation, the kicking team, if in range, has the option to "kick for points." Three points are awarded for a successful penalty kick. The kick must be from the point of the foul or anywhere on a line straight behind that point. The ball can be played if the kick fails. 

One or Two Rugby terms: 

Scrum: Forwards of each side come together in a tight formation to contest possession of the ball using their feet when it is tossed in among them. 

Forward pass: A violation that usually results in a scrum to the defending team. 

Knock on: The accidental hitting or dropping of the ball forward. The infringement is the same as that for a forward pass: a scrum to the other team. 

Penalty Kick:
Awarded after a serious infringement of the law. Offenders are required to retreat 10 yards while the opposing team is given the opportunity to restart play unopposed. Teams will kick the ball downfield for territorial advantage, or if in range, they may attempt a kick at the goal posts, worth three points. Finally, they may simply tap the ball with their foot and run with it. 

Try: The act of grounding the ball in the "In Goal Area" (like the end zone) to score 5 points 

The Thunderbirds will face such teams as the Spenard Dragons, the Bird Creek Barbarians, the Mat-Su Maulers and University of Alaska Fairbanks this year and will play regularly throughout the summer. They are also taking part in the "Midnight Sun" seven-a-side tournament June 21 at Davis Park in Anchorage. Entry is free, and all are welcome. 

Lady players need not panic. The Arctic Foxes are a thriving Lady's team who also have a full fixture list this season, any of the Thunderbird leadership can put you on to them.

For more information, visit www.thunderbirds.20m.com.
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