Rugby players bring traditional football to Westmoreland Park

It might look like a vicious sport, played without rules, but read this, and learn why rugby is a lot more civilized than you may think …

Performing what looks like a cross between a ballet leap and an acrobatic cheerleader stunt, rugby players hoist a team member high into the air to catch the ball during a “line out”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Their game over, soccer players quickly cleared the field at Westmoreland Park when they saw the blue-uniformed Oregon Sports Union “Jesters” and the red-jersey clad “Portland Pigs” (a/k/a Portland Rugby Football Club) on February 17.

“We don’t want to be in the way of these guys,” said a soccer player, making a hasty exit to the sidelines.

About to take place was the semi-annual competition between Portland’s senior men’s rugby leagues.

Century old sport shows no age
While the game of rugby came into being in 1872, the first Portland club was organized only in 1961, we’re told by Shawn Waterman, assistant coach of the Portland Rugby Football Club, known as the Portland Pigs.

“Portland Pigs?” we ask.

“According to oral tradition,” Waterman said with a smile, “at a tournament in San Francisco, a pig wandered on the field. The club adopted it, brought it back to Portland, and later roasted it. It was said to have been delicious.”

Not for the faint of heart
Waterman enthused, “It’s a fantastic game. It gets in your blood. It is a very physical game. It isn’t for the weak at heart, nor unsound of body.”

As in American football, rugby players grab the ball and do their best to carry into the scoring end-zone.

Rugby differs from American Football, we learned, in that players don’t wear helmets or hard pads. They are permitted to use soft, foam shoulder pads.

Asked about the basics, Waterman does his best to simplify the game play.

“The playing field is 100 meters in length, goal posts on each end. There are 15 players on a team. The object is to tally more points than your opponent by scoring a “try”, a “penalty kick” or a “drop goal”. A “conversion” after a “try” scores points as well.”

In simple terms, each team alternately attacks the opposition goal or defends their own.

Unlike American football, a when the player running ball is tackled – and wow, are they tackled – they untangle themselves and the play continues.

An adult-level rugby match lasts 80 minutes, played in two halves of 40 minutes each. It is controlled by a single referee and two touch judges.

“One thing that makes the game so vigorous,” Waterman stated, “is that, unlike American football, play continues immediately after a tackle.”

Parent calls it a “clean” sport
On the sidelines, watching what looked like violent roughhousing, we met Richard Sorem, the parent of Taylor, a Portland Pigs player. We asked if he had concerns for his son’s safety.

“True, it is a very ‘physical’ game,” Sorem replied. “But, he’s been playing for three years. Even though they play hard, it’s a ‘clean’ sport in which sportsmanship is highly valued. Rugby doesn’t have rules ‚Äì instead, they call them ‘laws’ ‚Äì and they are meant to be obeyed.”

Overall, Sorem said, he didn’t think the chance for injury is any greater than in other contact sports. “There are risks in playing any sport.”

It looks like a coordinated shoving match, but this grapple with the ball is called a “scrum”.

The greatest game
During a break, we ask Waterman why he chose this sport. “Simply, we play it because it is the greatest game.”

Portland rugby is played in a split season, in the fall and spring. “Wet, sloppy fields don’t make for a good game, but we play it in the season,” Waterman commented.

You can see the Portland Pigs practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Montavilla Park, SE 82nd Avenue of Roses and Glisan Street, at 7:00 p.m. Games are played on Saturdays.

You can learn more about this fascinating, traditional sport by going to

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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