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Rugby players bring traditional football to Westmoreland Park

by: David F. Ashton, Performing what looks like a cross between a ballet jump and an acrobatic cheerleader stunt, rugby players hoist a team member high into the air to catch the ball during a “line out”.

Their game over, the soccer players quickly cleared the field at Westmoreland Park when they saw the blue-uniformed Oregon Sports Union 'Jesters' and the red-jersey clad 'Portland Pigs' (a/k/a Portland Rugby Football Club) heading toward their way on February 17.

'We don't want to be in the way of these guys,' said a soccer player, making a hasty exit to the sidelines.

About to take place was the semi-annual competition between Portland's senior men's rugby leagues.

While the game of rugby came into being in 1872, the first Portland club was organized only in 1961, according to Shawn Waterman, assistant coach of the Portland Rugby Football Club -- known as the Portland Pigs.

…Portland Pigs?

'According to oral tradition,' Waterman said with a smile, 'at a tournament in San Francisco, a pig wandered on the field. The club adopted it, brought it back to Portland, and later roasted it. It was said to have been delicious.'

Waterman is enthused about Rugby. 'It's a fantastic game. It gets in your blood. It is a very physical game. It isn't for the weak at heart, nor unsound of body.'

Rugby differs from America's game of football, we learned, in that the players don't wear helmets or hard pads. They are permitted to use soft, foam shoulder pads, though.

Asked about the basics, Waterman does his best to simplify the game play.

'The playing field is 100 meters in length; goal posts on each end. There are 15 players on a team. The object is to tally more points than your opponent by scoring a 'try', a 'penalty kick', or a 'drop goal'. A 'conversion' after a 'try' scores points as well.'

In simple terms, each team alternately attacks the opposition goal, or defends their own.

An adult-level rugby match lasts 80 minutes, played in two halves of 40 minutes each. It is controlled by a single referee, and by two touch judges.

'One thing that makes the game so vigorous,' Waterman stated, 'is that, unlike American football, play continues immediately after a tackle.'

On the sidelines, watching what looked like violent roughhousing, we met Richard Sorem, the parent of Taylor, a Portland Pigs player. We asked if he had concerns for his son's safety.

'True, it is a very 'physical' game,' Sorem replied. 'But, he's been playing for three years. Even though they play hard, it's a 'clean' sport in which sportsmanship is highly valued. Rugby doesn't have rules - instead, they call them 'laws' - and they are meant to be obeyed.'

Sorem added that he didn't think the chance for injury is any greater than in other contact sports. 'There are risks in playing any sport.'

During a break in the action, we asked Waterman why he chose this sport. 'Simply, we play it because it is the greatest game.'

Portland rugby is played in a split season, in the fall and spring. 'Wet, sloppy fields don't make for a good game, but we play it in the season,' Waterman commented.

If you want to see more, you'll find the Portland Pigs holding their regular practice sessions every Tuesday and Thursday at Montavilla Park, 82nd Avenue of Roses and N.E. Glisan Street, at 7 pm.

The actual competitions (games) occur at parks all over the Pacific Northwest, on Saturdays; the 'home' games are held in a Portland location where they are able to book time on that particular day.

You can learn more about this fascinating, traditional sport locally, and also determine the next time the team will be playing at Westmoreland Park, by visiting the Internet website: www.portlandrugby.org.