North Texas Daily

Men and women’s rugby teams find success in the scrum

Men and women’s rugby teams find success in the scrum

December 03
03:06 2015

Clay Massey | Staff Writer


Football isn’t the only sport at North Texas with violent, high-speed collisions.

Just ask kinesiology junior Shelby Lyle, captain of the North Texas women’s rugby team, who watched one of her teammates break an opponent’s clavicle in a game during the team’s inaugural season this fall semester.

“It was a beautiful hit,” Lyle said. “I don’t know what happened. It was perfect form and everything. Sometimes freak accidents happen. She knocked the girl. It was awesome. Everyone expects women to be less physical, but I think we’re as physical as the guys or even more so.”

While she did not have the intent to injure her foe, rugby players compete without padding while sprinting, tackling, rolling, jumping and wrestling with opponents just like football players.

Many people often compare rugby to football due to the violent nature of the game. But to a rugby player, football doesn’t even compare.

“People relate it to American football. I think that’s a very different sport,” finance junior and president of the North Texas men’s rugby team Daniel Curl said. “The key thing that really encases the physical demand is the idea that many of the laws of rugby are designed so that the game is continuous and flows constantly.”

Rugby at the collegiate level is played with two 40-minute halves with a running clock, similar to soccer. Even without padding, the hits are still just as explosive as football.

Led by experienced coaching staffs that have both playing and coaching experience, the North Texas men’s and women’s rugby clubs have found this season to be one of the most successful ever.

The men have continued a long-running tradition of winning, as they are in the midst of an undefeated season in the Southwest Collegiate Rugby Conference. The team is looking for its second consecutive state title, defeating conference foes University of Houston, Texas Tech University and Texas State University along the way.

If North Texas can continue its winning ways through the end of the season in January, it can win the conference without having to compete in a conference championship game. And winning the conference could open up opportunities to be invited to national competitions–something they have done the last two years.

Members of the men’s team credit head coach Michael Engelbrecht for the team’s success.

“He has really brought about a newfound work ethic and discipline that has really resonated with a lot of the guys,” Curl said. “Also we’ve had that wonderful moment where although, as it is with rugby in general here in America, most people are new. We’re starting to have much more veteran players on the team. So now whenever there are new members, there are old players to take them under their wing.”

The women’s rugby team has much less experience than the men’s team. The team was formed late in the 2015 spring semester, evolving from a group of girls who knew next to nothing about rugby to a team that finished 5-1, with its only loss coming in the Lonestar Women’s Rugby Conference championship game in overtime.

Lyle played basketball at East Texas Baptist University before transferring to North Texas and originally planned to walk on to the North Texas women’s basketball team. Instead, she found a new love for rugby and said she has never been on a team with as much chemistry as her current team does.

“I’ve learned that rugby is a team sport,” Lyle said. “You can’t just have one or two good players. You’ve got to have a solid team. We’re a very new team, but we’re deep enough. Instead of having one good player and the rest average, we all came up together and are all-around good players. We would just beat out teams. Other teams would have one good player, and we would figure out who that one good player is and shut them down. In rugby, everyone has to play.”

The men were at one point in the same situation as the women’s team. Most were inexperienced, but with the help of the new coaching staff, the team has become dominant.

Engelbrecht played and coached at the national level and also has experience coaching overseas before joining North Texas rugby. He said his time coaching players of all ages has translated to the North Texas program.

“I think my experiences in developing those players as fast as we can around the country, I’ve learned a lot of practices that work well in those kinds of environments,” Engelbrecht said. “Those practices are what I bring to the UNT program.”

Part of what the men’s coaching staff has done to make its program so successful has carried over to the women’s team, creating a winning culture throughout both squads.

Assistant men’s coach Andrew Marshall said the teams routinely interact, which makes for a positive environment and helps both teams find success on the field.

“It’s just awesome to see everybody being so encouraging,” Mitchell said. “Really, it comes out of the passion for this sport that a lot of the kids are new to. It really is a sport that can captivate you.”

Featured Image: The North Texas men’s and women’s rugby clubs have found this season to be one of the most successful ever thanks to experienced coaches. Courtesy | UNT Rugby 

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