Diabolical sport

Posted on 01 Apr 2010 at 10:07am

The Diablos, Dallas’ male and female rugby teams, aren’t for sissies


TOUGH ENOUGH | Both the men and women’s sides of the Dallas Diablos engage in rugby union.

There’s something both familiar and attractive about the sport of rugby. With roots dating back almost 200 years, rugby union — the most common form of the sport —looks like a cross between American-style football and what we call soccer (and everywhere else in the world calls "futbol").

The Dallas Diablos, first established in 2002 as a gay men’s rugby team, is a member of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB), but men’s captain Will Padilla says both the men’s and now women’s sides seek diversity across age, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

The Diablos women’s side was formed in 2008, and captain Katie Newman says that friendship and a love of rugby outweigh any concerns over one’s orientation. Although terms like "maul" and "ruck" aren’t ones you might normally associate with women, head coach Jennifer Nollkamper says her players are fierce and physical competitors.

While the look and feel of rugby is familiar to the average American football fan, the subtle nuances of the sport requires some time on the pitch to fully understand (see sidebar).

If you’re not willing to take or deliver a hit, rugby is not the game for you. According to third-year player Gary Burrows, who has played both football and soccer, rugby is "much more physically demanding than football, and since it’s played without pads the hitting is not as intense. But you got to be in great shape."

Yet for all its seeming barbarism, tackling techniques and rules are designed to protect players. Team president AJ Tello says players are taught to tackle cheek-to-cheek, which means wrapping their arms around a players midsection, gaining leverage and forcing them to the ground. High tackling, or attempting to deliver a blow to bring someone down, results in a penalty and possible suspension.

The physical nature of the game is what attracted April Beamon and Stephanie Maloney to the sport, and they both affirmed that you must be a little crazy to play rugby. Padilla adds that for him rugby, is "a way to release aggression," while most players speak of the desire to challenge themselves beyond the standard gym workout. Diablos’ player Charles Sauter admits he even hired a trainer to improve his conditioning — otherwise, "I wouldn’t last." •

— Ricky Bradley

ORGANIZED MAYHEM

Rugby union has been called a hooligans’ sport played by gentlemen, but the mechanics of the game can resemble American-style football. Here’s how they are alike — and different.

How rugby is like football. Rugby union is a full contact team sport, played with an oval-shaped ball, where sides advance the ball towards a goal by running and passing. A team can score either by kicking it through the goal posts, or touching the ball down in the goal area. In rugby, the team captain’s role is analogous to a football quarterback.

How rugby differs from football. In rugby, 15 players are divided into two positions, forwards and backs. Forwards are generally bigger and more physical, while backs tend to be smaller and faster, making them more likely to be the main points scorers. There’s no huddling in rugby, or timeouts to call set plays, and the ball cannot be passed forward. Tackling occurs, and is completed only when the ball-carrier is held to the ground, so if a player is knocked down or slips down, they can get to their feet and continue running. Once tackled, a player releases the ball, either by passing to a teammate or placing it on the ground.

Registration open year round. Practices are schedules most Mondays and Thursdays at Lake Highlands Park. The season ends in May, but "touch rugby" takes place over summer. Visit Dallasdiablos.org.

And for more information, visit SportsFags.com.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 2, 2010.

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