Rugby club vies for larger recognition

Isaac Hunt

With the ultimate goal of becoming a varsity sport at Iowa State, the ISU Rugby Club is worlds away from where it dreams of being, but that doesn’t stop its players from trying.

Malcolm Robertson, coach of nine years, has changed the club from a social activity to a competitive sport many students may not be able to handle. The club attracted about 40 students at practice on Tuesday, Aug. 21, but coaches expect those numbers to drop.

“[Forty] is pretty typical for this time of year,” said assistant coach Kurt Willms. “You hear a lot of new guys that come out, but they hang up the boots after about a week or two. We do quite a bit of running, and it’s too much for some guys.”

A team needs 15 players on the field and seven on the bench. Being shorthanded the past few years has forced the team to forfeit some games. 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays at the field behind Willow Hall, many students may have seen some sprinting and aggressive forms of football being played. Exhaustion may set in and injuries may occur, but it’s all for the love of the game. 

But love is something that takes time to evolve.

This is why the ISU Rugby Club is excited about the recent beginning of the Iowa High School Rugby Association. Even though the high school game only features seven players instead of 15, Iowa State thinks of any exposure of the game as a good thing.

“The kids are out getting active, learning a new sport and getting excited about it,” Willms said. “[And] there were a couple of kids that went on to top-10 rugby programs.”

Lost in translation

The word “rugby” is known to most Americans, but the meaning of that word has many different definitions.

“Commonly it’s explained as a cross between football and soccer,” said captain Cody Burbach, senior in mechanical engineering. “In reality, it’s a lot different. It’s a high-intensity impact game. It’s got the tackling of football, but you’re looking more for the running style [of soccer]. 

“It’s continuous play and instead of the stopping [between plays] like in football. That’s why people compare it to soccer.”

International students are often attracted to the club as something that can get them involved with other students. Willms said they have a large number of new students, foreign and American alike.

“I’ve been brought up playing rugby all my life,” said Australian-born Adam Van Arkel, foreign exchange student in human sciences. “It’s made things a lot easier coming over here. It’s good to hang out and play rugby with a whole different group of guys.”

With only a few weeks in, Van Arkel said it is good to see the commitment from the team. 

“We’re training three nights a week, which is even more than we do in Australia,” Van Arkel said. “It’s good to see the enthusiasm.”

Even if a player isn’t the strongest or most athletic there could be a place on the team. Fun and dedication are two of the main things the team focuses on. 

“You can play with [guys] of all different shapes and sizes,” Van Arkel said. “You don’t just have the big dudes, there is a place for all different types of guys.” 


Many clubs may be just that, but the rugby club wholeheartedly acts as a team.

“It definitely gives you a lot more work ethic than you’d think,” Burbach said. “Other clubs have the kind of commitment you can be here or there on. It takes a lot of commitment especially on the conditioning and practice to excel at the game.”

As a captain, Burbach said he makes sure the team is a family and they all know their responsibilities.

“Like in many other sports, you’re only as good as your weakest man on the field,” Burbach said. “You want to make sure everybody pushes each other and works together.”

Making the playoffs is something every sports program aspires for. A larger goal of the club that athletes and coaches alike agree on is to help rugby integrate its way into the everyday vocabulary of Americans. 

“I would definitely like to see more [rugby in America],” Van Arkel said. “I think it will get bigger especially as more money is put into the sport. It gives it another avenue for people who don’t make it in another sport.”