Volume 75, Number 39 | February 15 -21 2006

Phaidra Knight makes a dash for it with the ball in a rugby match.

Ears and more get mashed as ruggers get physical

By Judith Stiles

“See this ear, it’s not really my ear,” said Drew Fautley, chortling about how it was hanging by a shred after getting stomped in a rugby game. Fautley winked as he sweared he retired from playing rugby last spring (for the fifth time) to focus on coaching a women’s team at the New York Rugby Club. He is an athletic and limber fellow from England, who casually describes his list of permanent injuries from this rough-and-tumble game.

“The doctors filled my ear with plastic so it looks like an ear, and this scar over my eye and the pins in my arm are from playing this game,” he added cheerfully.

In New York the traditional rugby season is in the fall, but that hasn’t stopped

Fautley from gathering his players this winter for rigorous two-hour training sessions indoors at Pier 40 at W. Houston St. and various gyms around the city.

After putting in a whole day as an emergency room doctor at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in the Bronx, Annie Collier jumped right into practice doing wind sprints holding the ball and other drills designed to build stamina, endurance and good reflexes.

“Some people tease me and say I’m an adrenaline junkie but I just love the game,” said Collier, smiling, as she fondly turned the ball in her hands.

The New York Rugby Club has the premier women’s team in the metro area and the team has appeared in the last seven U.S.A. National Rugby Championship Tournaments. They finished third in the nation in 2005, and in 2002 they were ranked number two as the U.S.A. Rugby Division 1 National Championship finalists, boasting nine National Team players.

Many of the women wear scrumcaps in games to protect their ears. The practice included very little body contact and several endurance and skill-building exercises, allowing only one five-minute water break in two hours. After sprinting and passing the ball in lines of four, the 36 women immediately divided into groups of nine to play a keep-away game similar to a keep-away soccer drill. The ball was passed by hand, fast and low from player to player, instead of off the foot as in soccer.

During the water break, National Team player Kristin Baja explained that she loves playing rugby because aggressive physical contact is the norm in this game. She formerly played sweeper on her college soccer team at Arizona State University, but now has given up basketball and soccer for rugby.

“Rugby is the ultimate team sport and it is something like playing chess with 14 other people,” she noted as she put on a black knee brace to ease the pressure of a recent injury she got in a tournament overseas. Before the water break was over, captain Collier pointed out that there are limitations in playing aggressively in basketball and soccer where you risk fouling out or getting a red card.

“There is always the suggestion of contact in other sports and limitations on tackling. But in rugby it is all-out, and that is a freeing feeling,” she said as she sprinted back onto the floor to begin hurdles over human bodies. Six players lay on the floor parallel to each other about 10 inches apart, and a seventh person sprinted in the space between bodies at top speed. Once the runner finished jumping through the bodies, she laid down and became the sixth hurdle, as the first hurdle (woman) jumped up and became the runner. Everyone breezed through this drill with the foot dexterity of a ballerina, and nobody got hurt or even kicked.

Although it helps to have body mass and solid muscles, the women on this rugby team come in all shapes and sizes. No ballerinas on this team, but surprisingly, every player is very light on her feet and runs and turns with the agility of a dancer.

Since 1959, the New York Rugby Club has been known for hosting the largest Sevens Tournament in the United States on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. This seven-versus-seven tournament celebrates the end of the fall season, with participating teams from Central and South America, South Africa, Australia, The United Kingdom, France, Canada, Ireland and many other countries. It’s held on Randall’s Island and includes both men and women.

The New York Rugby Club welcomes all players and if you are considered over the hill, there is still a place to play in The Old Boys’ Club or with the Touring Women Over Thirty, whose acronym with an “S” added at the end is not appropriate for a family newspaper.

As assistant coach Jesse Giordano puts it, “Rugby is fun for girls at any age, and unlike figure skating, you don’t have to look pretty while you play!”

For more information, visit www.newyorkrugby.com.

Reader Services


Email our editor



The Villager is published by
Community Media LLC.

The Villager | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013

Phone: 212.229.1890 | Fax: 212.229.2790
Email: news@thevillager.com

Written permission of the publisher must be obtainedbefore any of the contents of this newspaper, in whole or in part, can be reproduced or redistributed.