Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Champagne Rugby


**Ironically, there is also a North Shore Women's Rugby in Chicago, where I just moved back home from, and they get a lot of random accidental messages from people in the Midwest asking if they want to have a scrimmage ha ha. I am referring to the North Shore Women's Rugby in Massachusetts.

It's been a little while since I've had to acclimate myself to a brand new team, but I'm really lucky that I had my sister with me and already had some recent practice doing this with Stars Rugby in January. My sister and I were even talking about how sometimes it's tough walking onto a new team where everybody already knows each other because it's like introducing yourself to a group of best friends.
But rugby people are so awesome anyways that it's really not that bad! The minute we showed up to practice everyone was so friendly right off the bat.
This team also has a pretty stellar reputation. They have beaten some awesome teams recently and made a pretty well known name for themselves. I played with them waaaaaay back in the day for about a month but fell out with them...not sure why. I was a freshman in college, still young...still naive....

I can already tell that I am aligned with this team's rugby philosophy because RIGHT OFF THE BAT we started with boat loads of running. The coach is phenomenal - knowledgeable, loud, curses like a sailor...everything I personally look for in a coach! One of the first things I remember him saying at the beginning of practice is
This is so freakin' true and I learned that the hard way in early spring. When I joined Crossfit, it seemed so hard in the beginning that I felt like there was no way I could incorporate anything else into my routine and that it would be enough to consider as a rugby training for the day. NOT THE CASE. The coach talked about how Crossfit sometimes neglects to give rugby players the amount of aerobic activity/running that is required. While I do believe that Crossfit DOES give you much more stamina and endurance to push through tough workouts, I have always been a firm believer that there is NO substitution for running whatsoever.

So I have also neglected to mention that through moving pretty much across the country and working insane hours at the same time (sometimes 20 hours in a row!), I HAVE BECOME COMPLETELY OUT OF SHAPE. I HAVE DONE NADA. ZIP. ZILCH. I'll give myself a little credit though for sometimes carrying over 40 pounds in cardboard boxes over a mile to the UPS store to ship home. That's about as close as I've gotten to a workout over the past MONTH.

Soooo when we began the practice with running, I was already like this:
I was happy for it though, because I hate the feeling of being out of shape SOOO much that it motivated me to get back into the swing of things. We literally did sprints upon sprints upon sprints upon sprints....and just when it seemed like the coach was going to have us stop we did another set of sprints....and just when it seemed like we would have a water break we did 10 push ups....then a set of planks....then star jumps.....then another set of push ups.....then another set of planks.......

The coach then talked about a term he called "Champagne Rugby." Both the mens and womens teams have recently been moving up in divisions; he talked about how in Division 3 they were able to move up simply through being faster and stronger than all the other teams. But when you start moving up to higher divisions and playing with more skilled people, you realize that now everyone is at your same level of speed and strength so you need to be able to throw something else at them. This is where the skill sets come in. I wouldn't even say it's necessarily throwing a perfect pass every time or always making your tackles, but more so the skills to know how to handle every situation when it arises on the field. I guess you could call that experience instead, but it definitely is also a skill of its own. Just that rugby knowledge is so vital, and why that website is also super helpful in improving this (thanks South Buffalo Women's Rugby for introducing me to it!). The coach said that when you're able to get to a level where you're playing with people who have been in the game for YEARS and know what they're doing....THAT is "champagne rugby" because it's the BEST! It's also so crisp and smooth, and an amazing environment to spur growth and improvement. That's how I felt at the practice already! It was really cool practicing with both men and women from such a variety of ages and skill levels. With everything I heard and witnessed at practice already (...and after just ONE PRACTICE!) I'm already like:
So after all the running and other exercises for our "warm up," we began going into skill work. We started doing four corners and basic lines for passing drills. Again, the coach made another good point when we were doing this. He said,
"Rugby is a game of mistakes." 
I need to remember that one for myself, because it's such great advice. I put too much pressure on myself to execute everything in a game exactly as it's supposed to go. But like I mentioned before, I think it's more about knowing how to pick yourself back up from a mistake and handle them when they arise (which is ALL THE TIME) rather than become defeated...ANOTHER REASON WHY RUGBY IS SO FRIGGIN AWESOME. I even noticed when we were doing passing lines that many extremely skilled and experienced players would let the ball bounce once before catching it if they thought it was a pass they couldn't catch in the air. What a simple but effective technique, since if you try to catch a pass that is risky then you run a high chance of just causing a knock on. So yeah, when I started doing all these skill drills with high level rugby players...
BUT THAT'S GREAT! I like being in an environment where I feel I can visually see what I need to improve (by being an underdog/SUCKING ha ha), and I especially appreciate it when all the players and coaches are very conducive to this type of environment. So they don't care if I'm terrible and allow me to grow instead of tearing me apart (hah). Because North Shore rugby possesses this quality (which I feel like a lot of club teams do), I completely threw myself into every drill without as much fear of messing up.
When we were doing passing lines, the coach also had another fantastic quote:
"RUN STRAIGHT, and I don't mean straight as in not on drugs!!!"
When we finished passing drills, we moved on to drills that worked on playing off of a kick. It primarily involves the fullback (I wish I stepped up to practice that spot because I really enjoyed it when I played it with South Buffalo Womens, but I was too shy!) but the coach described a new way of handling a kick return: 
Many times when a team punts the ball to the other end of the field, all of us get caught watching the ball sail over our heads and do this:  
But just like on a regular kick off, when someone on the other team catches the ball, it's like they have a magnet on them that attracts a kajillion defenders. SO, when the fullback receives a kick, we all need to do this instead:
We've gotta SPRINT back to where the fullback is and set up in a position for the fullback to be able to quickly pass the ball off. Because so many defenders automatically run for the fullback, there is going to be a pretty big overload that will develop pretty quickly on the weak side.
We practiced this in a great drill, where someone on the team who kicks would blast a punt down to the fullback and two defenders would run after it. At the same time when the defenders start running, three offenders also start running from the other side of the field to get in support of the fullback. It's then pretty much a game of speedball, two against four, to simulate an overload and should basically end in a tri every time. It was also very important to keep following your pass afterwards and get back into support, or else you can take yourself out of the play pretty quickly and become ineffective.
So while ALL of these drills involved a lot of running, OF COURSE we ended the practice with insane amounts of sprints....maybe even more than the beginning. Every time we completed a round of sprints, the coach would ask "one more?" and then we'd do it again.
...he did this about three or four times.
And after all of that, my sister and I realized that PRACTICE ENDED EARLY. Holy smokes! I felt like we had gone an hour over from how much we packed into one practice.
Speaking of my sister, I'm so glad she was there with me and will be for all the other upcoming practices/tournaments this summer. We're pretty good at picking each other up, and I think we're both so awkward that we don't feel as awkward when with a large group of people we don't know well yet:

...but both of us also forgot our inhalers (I haven't used mine sine I got it in January but I need to REMEMBER to use it bahaha. If I was given one then I guess that means I need one!):
All in all, I'm PUMPED and ready to make up for lost time. I'm back to the full grind with Crossfit in the mix. But now I've GOTTA find a way to make it to the Liberty Cup in NYC with South Buffalo Women's, dammit!!!

P.S. I deliberately had a disney theme going with the gifs - maybe this post could be used for little baby ruggers to understand how the game works ha ha.