A NEW SPORT

Houston Sabercats rugby kicks off tonight at Constellation Field

The Sabercats open play tonight. Courtesy photo

Rugby is officially here in Houston. Tonight the Houston Sabercats will have their inaugural match at Constellation Field in Sugarland. I believe a Rugby team here can be successful because Houston is such an international city; there is going to be a demand for almost every sport you can imagine. The season also starts after football has wound down so you can get your fix for testosterone fueled action. The newly formed Major League Rugby currently has six teams, with the Sabercats playing nine exhibition games before the season starts in April. They’ve also got a deal with CBS Sports to broadcast the matches on television and an apparel deal with XBlades, so you can purchase some Sabercats gear.

On Tuesday I was able to go to the Sabercats practice. It was 30 degrees and sleeting so I know these guys are tough! Coach Justin Fitzpatrick and fly-half/assistant coach Sam Windsor are both excited about the opportunity to start up a new league. When I spoke with Sam on Friday afternoon he said the guys are ready to go for tonight. Windsor has been playing rugby since the age of seven when he competed in an “under 9’s” league and later played for two of the oldest rugby clubs in the world – The Blackheaths in England and Trinity College in Dublin, which are both over 150 years old. “I’m excited about starting up a whole new club from the ground up here after playing for older, well established clubs.” Windsor said. Many people compare rugby and football due to the similarities of the field, the scrum being the precursor to the line of scrimmage and the tackling and seemingly violent nature of the sport. However, rugby also has a lot in common with basketball – a sport that actually was invented as an indoor alternative to rugby during the cold months. In rugby, like basketball, players participate on both offense and defense so the play is continuous with very little stoppage time. I asked Windsor about the toll this can take on the players’ bodies – “let’s just say I’m not very mobile on a Sunday,” he said. However, because players are taught proper tackling techniques from a young age, injuries are not as common of an occurrence in the sport as you might imagine even though most players are wearing little to no protective gear.

Rugby gets a reputation as a hooligan’s sport, but there are actually very strict ethical guidelines that players must adhere to. Windsor told me that only the captain can speak with the referee and back chat from other players can earn them a yellow or red card and could ultimately lead to an ejection. And even though players are competing hard against each other while on the field, it’s a common occurrence for them to share a pint afterwards. A player doesn’t want to have to leave the field of play, hurting his team, so referees are treated with a respect in rugby that you don’t often see in other sports. Windsor defined a successful rugby player in three words: “strong, aware, and communicative. Players have to have the strength to play the full match, be aware of the field and what’s going on around them, and be able to communicate effectively with teammates to be successful.” he said. The Sabercats will also be starting a rugby academy for young children up to teenagers to teach them about the sport, what it can provide them for the future, and as an opportunity to really foster rugby in young people.

Why should Houstonians give rugby a chance? “You’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth at a Sabercats game” Windsor says. “We’re playing with a high skill level, there’s going to be non-stop action, beer sales, a fan experience, an area for kids, and much more.”

Tonight the Sabercats take on the Seattle Saracens – the team head coach Fitzpatrick and Windsor were with before starting the Sabercats – and the weather is shaping up for a beautiful afternoon and evening. Tailgating starts at 3:30 p.m. with the fan experience at 4:30. Kick-off is at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available at www.houstonsabercats.com/tickets.

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