With the college football season over and the Super Bowl fast approaching, football fans will soon once again be forced to go on their annual gridiron hibernation until the pre-season starts in August.
For those fans who want to see hard-hitting action, without all the attendant controversy – at least for now, there is a new attraction at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field, which may be what you’re looking for:
Meet the Houston SaberCats.
Houston’s newest cool Cats are reportedly one of the seven teams to launch the inaugural season of Major League Rugby.
According to the league’s website, the regular season will begin in April, but our local team already played an exhibition match against the Uruguayan national team.
While the SaberCats lost 32-24, according to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian, the game drew a crowd of 3,500 at the minor-league ballpark.
“I think what we’ve done is hugely carefully researched,” SaberCats CEO Jeremy Turner, said in an interview with The Guardian. “Even the step into Constellation Field was based on research. Some of it empirical, that’s for sure, because it’s rugby, which is a lesser-known sport, but basically we worked very hard on making this professional.”
Rugby fan and Houston youth pastor Kyle Wilson brought a friend and his friend’s father to watch their first match:
“I’m really excited about it,” Wilson said at the time ahead of the game in another interview. “Americans, we love the physicality of it and finesse and the beauty of it. The barbaric-ness of it and the beauty of it all in the same moment.”
Football fans may be surprised at the number of similarities to rugby, as American football is a direct descendant of the game invented at the English private school where it gets its name.
Just a few quick specs for context:
- Each team has 15 players to a side: eight forwards (like the offensive line in football) and seven backs (quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, etc.).
- Each player plays both offense and defense.
- Players wear shirts, shorts, socks and cleats. They can wear light cloth caps, elbow pads and knee braces, but not heavy helmets, shoulder pads or other protective gear.
- Tackles are only permitted between the chest and the knees.
- Each half is 40 minutes, with no timeouts.
- The scrum half operates much like the quarterback. He gets the ball from the forwards and passes it out to the backs. All passes are laterals or backwards. No forward passes allowed.
- A player scores a try when he carries the ball into the try zone (“end zone”) and touches it down (“touchdown”) to the turf. A try is worth five points.
- After a try, a player kicks a conversion (“PAT”) from 25 meters out and at the point where the ball was touched down in the try zone. Each conversion is worth two points.
- If a team is penalized, the other team can attempt to kick a penalty goal (“field goal’). Each penalty goal is worth three points.
To learn more about the SaberCats, or the sport of rugby, visit the SaberCats website.