Deep in the heart of Texas, where football is practically religion, a new testament to our pure love of sport is rapidly adding chapters to the old playbook: RUGBY.
Once an exotic import from other English-speaking countries around the world (where the accents are harder to parse), rugby was perhaps considered the exclusively rough-and-tumble domain of beer-swilling hooligans (or at least that’s what Hollywood has led us to believe — Sliding Doors, anyone?) But rugby has quickly become the fastest-growing sport in the United States, according to USA Rugby, with “four national teams, multiple collegiate and high school All-American sides, and an emerging Olympic development pathway for elite athletes.” And Austin Rugby is one of the biggest rugby clubs in the US.
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Maybe it’s the now-150-or-so new people moving to Austin every day from everywhere else on the planet, or maybe it’s the new, direct lifeline to the UK via British Airways’ daily nonstop flights to London from ABIA. Or maybe Austinites are just looking for something new, something different, something slightly more physical and slightly more worldly. Whatever the reason, it seems like maybe rugby is here to stay and the spring rugby season in Austin kicks off with a slew of home openers at the Austin Hun’s playing fields in Northeast Austin, so we felt it was high time for an explainer on the game: how it works, who the local teams are, and where to watch.
How Rugby Works
Here’s a “Rugby for Beginners” explainer on the rules of “Rugby Union” — including “Rugby 7s” and “Rugby 15s” — the most popular type of rugby played in the world:
“Rugby 7s,” the most popular types of matches played here in Austin, are matches where each half is only 7 minutes long with only a 2-minute halftime, rather than playing two halves of 40 minutes, so there are fewer athletes and less time on the clock leading to a faster game with less time on the “pitch” (playing field) and nonstop action for the fans. Here’s a fast and full video on Rugby 7s:
Austin Rugby Clubs
Whether amateur, collegiate or elite, womens, mens, or youth, almost all rugby in Austin seems to happen at Huns RFC (4107 Nixon Lane, Austin, TX 78725) — the first rugby club in Austin, founded in 1972, and one of the largest rugby clubs in the US…which also happens to be the home of the Austin Huns.
Amateur and elite men’s teams competing in all three National USA Rugby 15s divisions and the National 7s division, plus a youth rugby feeder program. The Huns’ training and competition fields play host to most local Austin rugby matches. Follow @AustinHunsRugby for regular updates on all things rugby in Austin.
Their current season is underway, and you can find event and ticket information on their website. They also just announced a new partnership with Spectrum Sports where all seven of the team’s home games across Austin and throughout Texas on channel 323 (or 825 during potential conflicts). So watch at home or watch in the stands — either way, watch and support your local club.
Founded in 1991, the Valkyries are Austin’s Division I women’s rugby team. As a competitive team, they consistently earn their way to the National Championship semi-final and final tournaments, ranking as high as 8th (2005) and 6th (2011) in the nation for women’s rugby. Follow @AustinValkyries on Facebook and Twitter for updates. Find information about upcoming matches and tickets on their website.
University of Texas Longhorns
UT’s collegiate club team has been recruiting players from around the country since about 2013 and has been an official university sports club for six years. Practices are held at Whitaker Field, but matches are mostly played at Austin Huns RFC. Find out more info at @UTRugby on Facebook or on their website.
St. Edward’s University Rugby Football Club (SEURFC)
Founded in 1969 and then rebooted in 2010, the St. Ed’s rugby team comprises a truly worldwide roster: “15 nationalities and 5 religions have had the distinction of wearing our uniform into competition.” The club’s overall competitive record since 2010 is 80 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws. Find out more at @SEURFC on Facebook and at their website
Calling themselves “The Championship Rugby Club of Texas,” the Blacks are home to Divisions I, II, and III amateur men’s rugby teams and regularly collaborate with the Austin Crows, Austin’s Australia rules football club. Follow them @AustinRugbyClub on Facebook.
Clubs to Watch
Officially an Australian Rules Football Club, the Crows are all rugby fans at heart: a group of American and Australian players with backgrounds in soccer, American football, track, basketball… and rugby who regularly collaborate with the Austin Blacks rugby team. The Crows train every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. at Zilker Park, with practices open to anyone — just meet at the bottom deck of the park, closest to Barton Springs Bridge, “with a pair of cleats/runners and plenty of water.” Find them at @AustinCrowsFooty on Facebook or their website.
Officially a Gaelic Games (Hurling/GAA) and soccer club, the Cowboys are “a sports and social club” for men, women, and kids interested in celebrating all things Irish culture — including, soon we’re sure, rugby. This writer has met several of the Cowboys team members of all ages and genders at the Austin Celtic Festival the past few years and can verify they are, indeed, “very good craic.”
Where to Watch Rugby in Austin
When you’re looking for a pub or sports bar that might be showing the big rugby games on the big screens, a good rule of thumb is to find the established soccer (or “other football”) bars: both types of sporting events are broadcast on European schedules, meaning that bars and pubs have to open by 8 a.m. in Austin in order to be ready for the crowds, so the established soccer bars will most likely also be showing the big rugby games. Here are a few popular haunts around town for rugby fans:
Fado Irish Pub Austin
W 4th St
Austin, TX 78701
606 Maiden Lane
Austin, TX 78705
922 W 12th St
Austin, TX 78703
Mister Tramps Sports Pub and Cafe
8565 Research Blvd
Austin, TX 78758
Also watch for potential rugby and soccer viewing on the rise at The Jackalope, Black Sheep Lodge, Takoba, Cuatro’s, and more — and more live coverage on local cable outlets like Spectrum Sports Texas (formerly Time Warner Cable Sportschannel).
Sign up for emails from the blog This is Texas Rugby, which publishes a “complete” schedule of Central Texas rugby matches, for all the rugby news and updates fit to print. See you on the pitch!
Featured photo by Norma Salinas, courtesy Austin Huns Facebook