College of Charleston’s Women’s Rugby team, affectionately referred to across the club rugby nation as ‘Sexiest Team in the South,’ is the most successful club team on campus, entering the 2015-2016 season as fifth in the nation.
The accomplishments of this team do not rest solely on the strength and stamina of the players—though that is also something to speak of—but also on the cohesive qualities the women bring to the squad.
Paige Bramblett, freshman flanker, joined the team seeking a sport that would be more physically challenging than high school softball, but in rugby she also found her “biggest support system.”
“I hope to give back to the team as much as I can, since it has already done so much for me,” she said.
The team is open to all who are up for the challenge, but not everyone is cut out for the savagery.
Rugby dates back to ancient times, with the Greeks and Romans each having their own breed of the game. Today rugby is easily associated with football, though the structure and gear offer much less protection for the players and a lot more brutality on the field.
Each player makes an average of 20 to 40 tackles each match, and one in four players will sustain injury. More than half of player injuries occur during match play.
“It’s a marathon. You are sprinting for 80 minutes straight while getting tackled,” Bramblett said. “I love how the sport pushes you, but my least favorite part is Sunday morning. It feels like a semi-truck ran over you, backed up on you and ran over you again.”
Andi Holmes, senior hooker, appreciates the lack of sexism in rugby—one of the only sports with the same set of rules for men and women.
“F*** patriarchy,” she said. “We all play the same game.”
A match consists of two 40 minute halves, interrupted only for a 10 minute halftime. There are no timeouts or play reviews—just rugby.
“It’s a violent sport, but the people aren’t,” said Holmes, who quoted the famous mantra, “‘Football is a gentleman sport played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan sport played by gentlemen.’”
So, what would make anyone want to sign up for a sport with unmatched brutality, fewer regulations than football, and full-force tackles despite absolutely no safety equipment?
Simple– the girls on the team.
At the beginning of every season, the veterans take a few weeks to get to know the new players by assigning the rookies to a “family” based on personality and position. This cultivates lasting bonds that not only benefit players off the field, but the entire team on the field.
Morgan Stephenson, senior scrum-half, stuck with the sport all four years after getting adopted into her “family.”
“Everyone kinda has their roles,” she said. “We have to be able to be honest with each other, because at the end of the day, we’re sisters.”
Stephenson’s position, essentially the quarterback, is responsible for setting the pace of the game. She makes the most passes and is the connective tissue between the forwards and the backs.
But for her, the rugby-related bonds do not stop with just her teammates; it spreads to her opponents too.
“The community is by far the best thing about the sport. There’s not a single team we have played who I haven’t made lasting friendships with,” she said. “You can be from any team, and it’s impossible not to have an emotional connection with each other because that time we spend on the field together is so important.”
Holmes notes that even after a tough match, it is not uncommon for the two teams to go out for a beer together.
“Between teams it’s really cool because there is no animosity,” said Holmes, “which I think is especially important for women who are raised to see each other as competition. So it’s nice to have that competition, but still have that camaraderie.”
This supportive internal community is what drove the women’s rugby team to such success last season. They enter this year’s playoffs with expectations of doing the same. If not, at least we know they will be among friends.
*This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of the Yard.