Photo: Avgar Idan

I was introduced to rugby five years ago by a flyer glued to a wall in the women’s toilets at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I played football back in high school but this was years later, and I was interested in trying something new, so without knowing any rules or understanding what rugby was, I decided I’d go for a trial practice. I had also planned to go later that week to a flag (American) football practice which a friend had told me about.... but I would never make it to the flag football practice. 

Rugby is a contact ball sport that can trace its roots as far back as the Middle Ages and even Greek and Roman ball games, however, the codification of the modern day game began in the 1800s in England and developed over many years. There are two main variants: “fifteens”, the traditional game set, with fifteen players on each team and “sevens”, played with seven players on each side. 

Rugby was brought to Israel during the British Mandate period. Later, in the 1950s, teams were organized amongst the various immigrants and within the IDF. But rugby entered its major growth spurt thanks to the wave of immigration from English-speaking countries in the 1960s. 

A national league was formed in 1972 and for political reasons Israel joined the European rugby body, rather than the Asian Rugby Football Union. Israel’s men’s team made its international debut in a match against Switzerland in 1981 that ended with a tie (9-9); and as of 2005 the women’s national team has been competing in the European 7s championship.  

Today the national league consists of five women’s teams: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Upper Galilee and Rehovot, and seven men’s teams: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Upper Galilee, Yizrael and Ashkelon. There are also a number of junior teams. The best players from the various teams join to form the national teams that represent Israel each year in the European championships. 

Anyone who watches a rugby clip on YouTube may get the first impression of a pugnacious group of men tackling each other for the possession of an oddly-shaped ball - and to make matters worse, they don’t even bother to wear protective gear! 

Writer Sarice Holley (in red top) with fellow rugby playing friends (from left) Roni Kipnis, Melanie Kraus and Michal Taraboulos. Says Sarice: “We all started playing at the same time five years ago in Jerusalem, and now we play in different teams.”

Once you begin to understand rugby, you can’t help but laud the agility and savvy required to master the game. Rugby has taught me a great deal about teamwork, responsibility and discipline. But what’s even more rewarding is how some of these lessons apply to everyday life. Below are five lessons I’ve chosen that, though not new in concept, exemplify a rugger’s point a view.  

When you get hit, get up and get back into the game. I use the word “when” rather than “if” because in rugby you will get tackled, just as in life - occasional bumps along the road are inevitable - but we must be quick to get back on our feet and play on. We can’t win if we’re on the ground not moving forward. 

Support. In a rugby match, not even the most skilled player can win a game single handedly.  For a team to succeed, support is crucial. In life, business, relationships and even studies, a support system will facilitate our journeys. However, another important lesson comes into play here, and that is - Communication!  

Communication. In rugby we constantly tell our teammates, “I’m with you,” ideally, along with giving directions; such as “left” or “right”, while running behind them prepared to receive the ball. Occasionally we have to yell that we’re not free, meaning, we are unable able to receive the ball at that moment, so the ball possessor knows to pass the ball in the opposite direction. Most of the time the ball possessor is too pressured to constantly look behind to see who is with him or her, so communication makes their decisions a lot easier. I’m sure that the vast majority have heard that “communication is key”, because no-one (I know) is a mind reader. But it’s also nice to remind people that we have their backs, and also be mindful to inform them when we don’t.  

Have patience, opportunities will come. In rugby we wait for the opportune moment to break through the defensive line of the opposing team. This can take numerous attempts and can be extremely frustrating but eventually a gap will be found. When this happens, the team must be prepared and quick to take advantage of the opening. 

I once heard the author Robert Greene speak on this subject. He explained how, in life, we may be eager for something - let’s say, a certain career breakthrough, and can often get discouraged when things do not come about as effortlessly as we had expected them to. During the waiting period for our “moment”, we must be patient, gain as much knowledge and as many skills as we need to help us excel in that specific field and be ready, so that when the opportunity does come,  

Go the extra mile. In rugby we score by putting the ball down in the “try area” (the area behind the goalposts), resulting in a “try” which is worth 5 points. Followed by the try, the team has an opportunity to earn an extra 2 points by making a “conversion”. A conversion is a kick that must be performed in the field of play, in a straight line from the point where the ball was grounded for the try and parallel to the try - line, and the ball must successfully pass in-between the upper part of the ‘H’ shaped goal posts. 

Keep on running ... Israeli children have taken up the sport of rugby  

Keeping this in mind, think about a player sprinting past the opposing defensive players and finally reaching the try - area. Now he or she can immediately ground the ball anywhere and guarantee the team’s 5 points or they can push a bit more in order to place the ball as close as possible to the goalposts. This will make the conversion kick easier and may earn the team an extra 2 points, which can ultimately distinguish between a win and a lose!  

Sometimes if we persevere, give a little extra, even when we’ve essentially done our job, it may pay off by making things easier in the long run towards success. 

The rugby teams in Israel are very “oleh chadash”- friendly, as they are diverse, and English is often a second language at practices. The teams always welcome new players - no former experience is necessary. I highly recommend that any English speakers or “other language” speakers, men or women, with the desire to get active and expand social circles, give rugby a try. I assure you that amongst all the things you’ll receive in return, you’ll get to know the amiable and cheery genus that forms Israel’s rugby club.  

Women’s team needs money for Euro championships . . . can you help?

As most of us know, the government does not budget sufficient funds for sports in general, and while sports that aren’t “mainstream” like football and basketball, receive even less money, women’s teams are left with the remnant of the remnant.  

The women’s national team is working on raising money for its participation in the European Championship this June. Anyone interested in contributing to the team can contact the team's manager Ms. Liat Geller: liat.geller@gmail.com, 058 659 7659. 

Any amount will be highly appreciated. Thank you.  

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About the author

Sarice Holley

Sarice Holley was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She came to live in Israel with her family in 1995. After eight years the family moved back to the States, however, in 2006, after Sarice graduated from ...
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