As they look to embark on their 40th fall season, the Wilkes-Barre Breakers Rugby Club members continue to use their picks and axes as they’ve grown accustomed, their play on the field closely resembling the heart and fortitude that epitomized the coal miners of this region. Incidentally, it is the area’s only men’s rugby club within a 50-mile radius. Indeed, the Breakers are northeastern Pennsylvania’s best kept secret. I believe, however, that this is merely due to a lack of exposure and understanding of the game. So, please read on!
The Breakers Rugby Club plays home games across the river at Kirby Park. They compete in the spring, summer, and fall. During the spring and fall they play in the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union. The style of rugby adopted by this league is termed “Rugby Union,” or “Fifteens.” Rugby Union consists of 15 players on each team converging with each other in a form of elegant violence. The game is 80 minutes in duration, with 40-minute halves. In Rugby Union, the ball may only be passed backward or laterally. Forward passes result in a turnover and the non-offending team is awarded a scrum.
Scrums, line-outs, and jumpers
Scrums take place as a result of minor infractions such as forward passes or balls knocked forward, also referred to as “knock-ons.” In a scrum, eight players from each team crouch and bind onto each other. When they receive the referee’s signal, each player leans in and begins pushing against his opponent. Concurrently, the scrum half, who stands in the middle of the scrum formation, rolls the ball directly between his team and the opposing team. Rolling the ball between opposing teams is referred to as a “put in.” The players in the scrum, referred to as forwards, must then kick the ball back with their feet.
Once the ball is kicked to the back of the scrum, the eighth man or the scrum half can pick it up and continue play. The eight man is the last forward in the scrum, and often has the best vantage point. The eight man is also known as the driver of the scrum, as he often is expected to shout commands to guide his teammates. Further, if the scrum half picks up the ball at the rear of the scrum, he is more likely to pass it directly to the backs. In the event the eight man picks up the ball from the rear of the scrum, the play typically results in a “pick and go.” Pick and go pertains to the eight man picking the ball up and proceeding to run the ball toward an impending gap, as the term suggests.
If the ball goes out of bounds, line-outs are utilized. In a line-out, a player will throw the ball from the out-of-bounds line to a teammate. Line-outs can involve 1 to 15 players on each team, but they typically range from only 4 to 8 players. Line-outs generally contain 1 to 3 jumpers. Each jumper is positioned between two lifters and is responsible for jumping up, while simultaneously being lifted by his shorts. As their name implies, the “lifters” are responsible for lifting the jumpers who tend to be tall and slender. The jumpers strive to catch the ball at the highest point in its trajectory. Once the ball is caught, it’s typically thrown to the scrum half, who proceeds to pass the ball to the agile backs. The defending team aims to anticipate the throw-in, and steal the ball in midair with its own jumpers and lifters.
In order to score, the ball carrier must provide downward pressure, that is, touching the ball down in the try zone. Cerebral and crafty defenders can prevent scores in the try zone by holding the ball up, or by preventing the ball from being touched down. This is referred to as being “held up” in the try zone. The play just described would result in a scrum at the 5 meter line to the team being held up. A try is worth five points and is awarded when the ball carrier provides downward pressure to the ball in the try zone.
Interestingly enough, American football originated from rugby, which is why a score in our “football” is known as a touchdown. So, once a ball is touched down in rugby and a try is awarded, the conversion must be attempted from the place where the score occurred. In essence, if one touches the ball down near the sideline, they must attempt the two-point conversion along the sideline. For this reason, players are encouraged to center the ball in the try zone, when possible, because it makes for a much easier conversion kick.
In Rugby Union the team who scores receives the ball again, immediately following the conversion attempt. Also, play is continuous—and fluid—and all players have the opportunity to carry the ball. This makes for a very entertaining and scintillating game. But that’s enough of Rugby 101 for now.
Breakers history and accomplishments
The Breakers organization was formed in 1973 and has recently celebrated 40 years of hard-nosed rugby this past spring. The Breakers don red and black jerseys. These colors were chosen to reference this area’s culture and heritage. The red color symbolizes the blood of the coal miners and lives lost, while the black represents the coal mines, themselves. Some of the team’s milestones include a Division 3 championship in 1993, followed the next year by a Division 2 championship.
Additionally, the team has had plenty of success in “Sevens Rugby,” a derivation of Union or 15-style Rugby played in the summer. During the summer of 2008 they compiled a 14–5 record, while winning their 2nd straight title at Binghamton Roadkill Sevens, finishing 2nd in the Plate Division at North Penn Sevens, and taking 3rd place in the esteemed Harrisburg Sevens tournament. More recently, the club finished 3rd place in the consolation bracket of their own tournament, the Break ‘Em Sevens, this spring.
Although many players have been adorned with the red and black jerseys, the Breakers’ mantra remains the same. Since their inception, they have aspired to promote and foster rugby in the area as a means for recreation, camaraderie, and community involvement. They have been regarded as a club with many talented players, and a team that is very resilient and physical. Their players range in age from 18 to 65. Most however, fall within the 18- to 35-year-old spectrum.
As mentioned previously, they play during the spring, summer, and fall. Practices are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at Kirby Park from 5 pm to 8 pm. The Breakers are always looking for players, and no experience is necessary. If you’re interested in playing, please contact Danny Messenger, club president, for more information. He can be reached at 570–690–5616 by phone, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in becoming a rugby enthusiast or fan, you can check out the schedule, scores, and other news at www.wilkebarrerugby.com, or at the club’s facebook presence. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, and you may even develop a new pastime.