Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rugby League Game Is Where the Action Is

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rugby League Game Is Where the Action Is

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Capitano

Well, malt my vinegar and darken my beer, it's semi-professional rugby league season here on the First Coast. Our rough and tumble Jacksonville Axemen are off to a strong start, defeating the Bucks County Sharks 32-28 in overtime in Saturday's opening game.

Teams face off at the Hodges soccer stadium at UNF, an easily accessible and scenic spot to sit in the evenings and cheer on the team. Parking is even free. You may want to take a towel or stadium cushion to sit on during the early minutes of the game -- after a full day of soaking up the sun, the concrete bleachers will slow-roast your booty.

Saturday was my first rugby experience, and I know I'm not the only one who is less than an expert on the zany, back-passing game in this Gator/Jaguars town. Lucky for us all, the Axemen program gives a quick and easy "crash course" about how the game is played, and the announcer comes through with periodic tips on understanding play. Between the two knowledge sources, I had no trouble following the match.

Rugby league split from rugby union in the late 1800s over player compensation, and the two codes are distinctly separate sports. The short lesson on rugby league is that each team gets six chances (similar to downs in football) to score a four-point try, and no blocking, forward passing or tackles above the ball-carrier's shoulder are allowed. After a try is scored, the team then goes for a two-point conversion by attempting to kick the ball through the goal posts.

One of the most unique aspects of the game is the scrum (my new favorite word), where each team forms a six-player triangle and huddles to fight for possession of the ball. Ben Wharton, a student from Melbourne, Australia, told me these scrums are nothing like the ones he sees back home, which can last for 20 seconds and are often the most violent part of the match. …

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