Rugby - A Socially Competitive Sport
by Randy Pascal
Weekly Column now appears in Northern Life, every Thursday
For the second time in the past three months, locals wandering in the vacinity of Queen’s Athletic Field may well have done a double take. Home
to countless soccer and football encounters over the years, the storied Sudbury venue was host recently to the 7th edition of the Sudbury Sevens Rugby
The event came not long after the site welcomed boys and girls rugby teams to town, in early August, part of the 2010 Ontario Summer Games
festivities. While the Games did not include any northern Ontario talent, the same could not be said for the Sevens competition, with the Sudbury Stones
featuring a pair of entries among the thirteen team field.
The sport, which features a rather unique mix of fierce on-field physicality with an off-field social aspect that is almost second to none in the
sporting realm, is starting to make in roads once again in the Nickel City.
Mind you, this is far from being the first time that enthusiasts of the sport, that includes a following as passionate as any who walk the face of the
earth, have seen rugby becoming entrenched in the Sudbury community.
The Sudbury Exiles long preceded the founding of the Sudbury Stones and, at one time, could field a team as competitive as any in the province.
In 1973, the Exiles reached the semi-finals of the Ontario Senior League championship playdowns, falling to the Toronto Nomads.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the following for the sport had dwindled to the point of making it next to impossible to maintain any kind of
feasible program. That would change early in the new millennium.
“I put an ad in the paper and got a few responses,” said Sudbury Stones’ founding member Rich Rudolph. “By May of 2002, we had a club formed and
exhibition games lined up.”
Originally from New Zealand, Rudolph was first introduced to rugby in a region where the sport is huge, growing up watching his dad play the game.
Moving to Canada, he would pick it up again at age 17, playing with college, university and club teams in southern Ontario.
And while there were easily of handful of participants at the Sevens Tournament who noted a family background within the sport of rugby, many wander
over, in their late teens and early twenties, with experience in football or other team sports.
“That’s one of the best things about rugby, because just about any different body type and physique can fit in the sport,” said Rudolph. New club
president and tournament organizer Jeff Sampson clearly fits into the category of those who did not grow up with the sport.
“I started playing when I was about twenty. My roommate played it and invited me out one day, and I just fell in love with it the very first time I
played the game – and haven’t looked back since,” said Sampson.
Another transplanted Sudburian, Sampson’s introduction came in Thunder Bay, perhaps an explanation why the northwestern Ontario city managed to send no
less than three entries to the Sudbury Sevens Tournament.
Such is the devotion of these athletes that at least one of the teams drove through the night, arriving in Sudbury at about 8:00 a.m., just enough time
to get warmed up and ready for their first game at nine.
The attraction, for Sampson and others, is very plain to see. “Generally everybody that comes out is active, but often new to this sport. But they have
a love of competition, and rugby tends to attract a real social element,” he said.
That fact did not require incredible reporting skills to note. Players interchanged uniforms at the competition, helping opponents in a pinch, going at
it hard on the pitch and sharing plenty of laughs the moment the final whistle sounded.
While rugby is traditionally played with fifteen players aside, the Sudbury Sevens event represents an increasingly popular variation of the sport. “The
sevens game has a different play style, because it’s much faster,” explained Sampson.
“In a fifteens game, there’s a lot of crashing, not a lot of space to run. In the sevens game, it’s open field, fast guys that have the advantage.” And
both Sampson and Rudolph stressed that with the emphasis on learning proper tackling technique, the concern over a susbstantial risk of injury (moreso than
other contact sports) is a myth they would love to dispel.
Starting from a core of some six to eight members, the Sudbury Stones have grown to the twenty or so participants, which enabled the club to field both
a Bluez and Greys side in the 2010 tournament.
“With 100,000 people in Sudbury, there’s no reason why we couldn’t eventually have an intercity league, if we take time to build the sport up,” said