Scrum’s the word
Of all of the flyers on all of the bulletin boards at the University of Washington in Seattle, there was one in particular which caught Austin Britts’ eye.
Britts, a freshman at the time, was on his way back from a less-than-inspirational talk with the Huskies’ mens soccer coach when a new word entered his sporting vocabulary: rugby.
“I wanted to go out for the soccer team, but after I talked to the coach, I wasn’t sure of I’d be able to play at quite that level,’ the 1999 Nevada Union grad said. “I was walking back across campus when I saw the (rugby team’s) flyer. I’d heard about it in high school from a friend of mine. He said it was a great way to meet people and as a sport, it was absolutely magnificent. So, I thought I’d give it a try.”
SPORT OF GENTLEMEN
For those of you poor souls who haven’t had the pleasure of playing rugby (I played 16 years for a team in Tucson before I moved here two and a half years ago), it’s kind of like a mix between American football, basketball and soccer.
The object of the game, like football, is to carry a plumper version of a pigskin, across the goal line, or try-line.
Sounds easy enough, but unlike football, blocking and forward passes are illegal.
Like basketball or soccer, the action is non-stop. Every member of the 15-player team can be called upon to play both offense – run, pass or kick – the ball, and defense, which means one thing: tackle.
These are just a smattering some of the basic principles of the sport. For a thorough explanation of the game they play in heaven, go online at http://www.usarugby.com.
And now, back to our story.
Britts had been an accomplished alpine skier – he took third overall in the state’s high school championships – and was a co-captain on NU’s soccer team as a senior, but the intricacies of rugby had him scratching his head early on.
“I watched the game before I played it, but I was still confused out there,” he said.
After a week or two of practice, U-Dub squared off with Oregon in the season opener.
Britts went into the game as a backup, but was called in for the second half.
You can call it fate, luck, or whatever, but Britts scored the very first time he touched the ball.
“It was a fluke. We were on a counter-attack when I found myself wide open on the outside. (A teammate) gave me a beautiful pass and I was all alone,” he said. “I heard footsteps behind me, but I had one mission.”
The Huskies lost the game, but Britts was hooked.
Britts played the rest of his freshman year, then became a starter the next season. In fact, his skill on the field had improved so much, he was voted to the Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union’s All Star team.
With rugby resume growing, Britts decided to take his show on the road.
“I always knew I wanted to go abroad my junior year, so when I had a chance to study in Scotland, (I took it),” he said. “And the level of rugby over there is top-notch.”
Britts, who will graduate later this year with a degree in international economics, didn’t waste any time introducing himself to the Kings College at Aberdeen University’s rugby team.
“I went to the first training session and there were 120 guys out there,” he said. “Unlike over here, they have full contact practices. My eyes were as big as dinner plates, watching them tackling each other and driving each other into the ground.”
Britts matched his skills against some of the best college players in Scotland and Ireland for the next season, building friendships and making lifelong memories along the way.
“That was the best year of my life. I had a chance to see their educational system up close and learn (about the I game love),” he said.
Keith Jiron is a sports reporter for The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at
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