Future ‘bright’ for new Simpson rugby club

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by Erin Gerken

Simpson College throughout the years has been home to many different sports, and now there is one more option: Olympic Rugby.

The sport is starting to take the United States by storm.

“Rugby is the largest growing sport for 13 to 18 year olds,” Coach Jake Norlin said.

The new Olympic Rugby team, available to men, has preliminary practices continuing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays until mid-November. Norlin, who is a teacher and coach in the Clarke Community School District in Osceola, is the head coach in charge of the team and was available to answer some of the question The Simpsonian had.

Why is rugby gaining popularity?

There’s been a huge push at the national level to get it televised. With the 15s version of the game, meaning 15 players on the field at one time with and 80 minute game, so 40 minute halves, there’s no time for commercials except for halftime. That doesn’t make the 15s version a very easy game to put on television. Now with 7s, you can have seven minutes of television, one minute of commercials, seven minutes of play again and then up to five minutes of commercials. Another thing is a big push among youth programs. We want every school to have their own rugby team. People at the local levels want to get rugby into the schools. It’s a combination of those two things.

Why Simpson?

Why not? Simpson is looking for a way to retain students and they are also looking for a way to draw in more and newer students to the community. One way for that is through athletics. I guess they looked at several different sports, and they see potential in rugby to draw in the most students, just because the huge growth in the high school league that has taken place in Iowa in the past three to four years. A lot of the big schools have their own club teams but not many of the smaller schools do. We want to provide a model for the smaller schools to get their rugby teams going as well. If we can prove that it is going to be self-sustainable and actually does what we want it to, which is bring in new students, if we are able to prove that I’m sure pretty much every division three school in Iowa in the next five years will be wanting to start a rugby program, both guys and girls.

Q: A little bit about rugby? What is it similar to?

A: The version of the game we are playing is called Olympic Rugby. We’re calling it that because it’s one of the newest sports to be included back into the Olympics. The version of the game includes seven players on the field at one time with up to five substitutes only being used once during the game. Games last 14 minutes with seven minute halves and a one minute halftime. Some of the basic rules include no forward passing; passes can only be lateral or behind the line of scrimmage. Tackling is without pads. There are what are called scrums, where three people come together on a team and they basically push the other three people from the other team off the ball; that is a way to restart play when somebody drops the ball forward or there is a forward pass. When the ball goes out of bounds what happens is called a line out: people will form a tunnel between two teams and one team will throw the ball down the middle of it and both teams lift a guy in the air and try to get the ball. The whole premise of the game is to win by scoring tries. You take the ball from one end of the field to the other, running it forward or kicking it forward and you have to touch the ball down behind the line of scrimmage. That’s how football got the term touchdown.

Q: What other sports is it similar to?

A: It’s a combination of yes, football, yes, soccer, but a big one is basketball. Not a lot of people see it being a combination of that. All the passing skills involved, you have defenders that are trying to guard you but you have to put yourself in an open place so you can actually get the ball and so there is a lot of thinking involved just like there is in basketball.

Q: What are some examples of other schools with rugby?

A: (Just in Iowa) we have Iowa State, Iowa, UNI, Luther has a team and Central has a team. Augustana (in Ill.) has a team as well. Iowa State, UNI and Iowa are the ones that get the most recognition just because they play in a higher division, a more competitive league.

Q: Why Simpson?

A: Why not? Simpson is looking for a way to retain students and they are also looking for a way to draw in more and newer students to the community. One way for that is through athletics. I guess they looked at several different sports, and they see potential in rugby to draw in the most students, just because the huge growth in the high school league that has taken place in Iowa in the past three to four years. A lot of the big schools have their own club teams but not many of the smaller schools do. We want to provide a model for the smaller schools to get their rugby teams going as well. If we can prove that it is going to be self-sustainable and actually does what we want it to, which is bring in new students, if we are able to prove that I’m sure pretty much every division three school in Iowa in the next five years will be wanting to start a rugby program, both guys and girls.

Q: When is the rugby season?

A: The rugby season will start in mid-February for practices. Games will start early- to mid-March. It will go through pretty much the end of school. I believe we will quit playing the week before dead week, so that would be our last weekend of play. That’s just for this year. Maybe in the future we could expand into playing 15s, which we would like to play in the fall. So that would be the time from when school gets back until about early-November.

Q: Future of the rugby team?

A: The future is bright. We have a good crop of student athletes, and I’ve seen that the few Sundays I have been down doing non-contact sessions. The potential is there to do some really great things. We have a great schedule set up. We have Iowa and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln committed to come here. We’re looking to get Kansas and Kansas State, Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Northwestern; we’re looking into getting those schools to commit to playing and we have a really good shot at winning each and every one of those games. Our future is bright, we’re optimistic