Women's Rugby, ca. 1930

“The nature of the sport of rugby is that it takes 15 players working together on the field in order to produce positive results.  Superstars are nothing without the support of their teammates, so players have to rely on each other to achieve success.”

– Columbia Coach Jodie Van Ogtrop

The Birth of a Sport

Although it may seem like a foreign, perverse incarnation of American football, legend has it that Rugby is actually a foreign, perverse incarnation of soccer. According to a Wikipedia page in dire need of citations, a guy called William Webb Ellis at the Rugby School in England picked up the soccer ball and ran with it. Literally. Since that day in 1823, rugby has developed into the sport we “know” and “love” today.

The Basics

Rugby is played on a pitch for two halves that are each no more than 40 minutes long. The clock doesn’t stop, but time will be added at the end if there are injuries.  In Rugby Union (the variant of Rugby that our women play), there are 15 players: 8 forwards, and 7 backs. You can run, pass, and kick the ball, but you MAY NOT pass it in front of you. This will be called offside.  You can also tackle any opponent who has the ball, as long as you aim below the neck.

How To Win

Players make points by getting the ball to the end zone in a variety of ways:

  • The try: kind of like a touchdown in football, the difference being that the ball must be touched to the ground in a controlled fashion. This is worth 5 points.
  • The conversion: after a try, you have a chance to make 2 more points by kicking the ball through the posts from any distance directly behind where the ball was touched down. Making the conversion is therefore much more difficult if you score the try near the sideline.
  • Going for the post: essentially a field goal. Worth 3 points, and very difficult to do in the middle of play.


Perhaps the most quintessential component of rugby, scrums are awarded after the games stop for a minor infringement. In the scrum, eight forwards from each team bind together in three rows, and attempt to push the opposing team backward while feeding the ball under their feet. When the ball appears on either side of the scrum, a player from the winning team picks it up and play begins again.  Or else, you could pull a Ross and dive head-first into the middle of the scrum.

The Afterparty

Rugby tradition stipulates that after spending 80 minutes roughing up your opponents, you should invite them back for beers. As the saying goes, “football is a gentle[wo]man’s game played by brutes, and rugby is a brute’s game played by gentle[wo]men.”

Columbia’s Women

The club has come a long way since it was founded in 1991. This past Fall season, the team entered the Ivy Rugby Conference, which stacked them up against larger, nationally-ranked teams with better access to resources. “When I joined as a freshman,” team captain Juliette Conte commented, “we had 15 players. Now we’re 31.” With hard work both on the field and off, the girls have developed as both a club and a team, closing the gap between themselves and their better-funded competitors. Coach Jodie van Ogtrop similarly praised the team’s hard work, and said of Conte and other seniors,  “the leadership is outstanding.”

As for their personal relations, Conte provided, “we’re very closeknit, basically like a family… we eat together after practice, we’re in Butler together.” And no animosity with the men’s team here. The two happily share fields for some practices, and are always in the bleachers at each other’s games.

Upcoming Games

While the Ivy League Conference ended in Fall semester, the team continues to practice just as hard, and plays tournaments or exhibition matches almost every weekend. Tomorrow, the women take on the New York Rugby Club’s U19 team at 10 am on Randall’s Island. On April 28th, they host Hoffra at Baker Field, noon.

The face of aggression via Wikimedia Commons