This fall in Jonesboro the Arkansas State Redwolves rugby team takes on a new season under a new coach. Although rugby’s often thought of as a sport played internationally, Arkansas State rugby has a long and successful history in Arkansas.
Former coach Curt Huckaby brought a defunct Arkansas State rugby club back to life in 1996. The Jonesboro lawyer had developed a passion for the sport while living in California and brought that enthusiasm to the young players at A-State. Huckaby guided the Red Wolves for fourteen years. In that time, the rugby club went 183-44-1, an amazing feat for a coach in any sport. They picked up a national championship in 2000 and boasted many All-American players.
Since 2010, the rugby club has had several coaches, but the winning tradition continued. The Red Wolves brought home two more championships in 2012 and 2013. This year interim coach Blake White takes the helm with a young team hoping to continue the success of the program.
The sport of rugby originated in England in the early 1800s, though some say its history can be traced all the way back to the Roman game of harpastum. Modern day rugby is played on a rectangular field with 15 players on each team. The oblong ball can be kicked or carried forward, but all passes must go backward. Players can score three different ways: either they carry the ball across the other team’s in-goal area, kick the ball through the goal posts or drop kick the ball through the goal posts.
Although rugby is a contact sport, players can only tackle the person carrying the ball. Little to no pads are worn, giving the sport its rough reputation. The scrum is the most iconic part of the sport. It occurs when the game needs to restart. Eight players from each team group together in rows and interlock their heads with the opposing team. The ball is fed into the scrum and the teams try to push the ball backward with their feet to other teammates while pressing into the opposing team. It’s certainly a unique aspect of the game.
A-State plays in the Mid-South Conference, a Division 1 conference under USA Rugby. Rugby isn’t an NCAA sport, but that hasn’t stopped Arkansas State University from providing tremendous support to the club team. Matt Huckaby, a former Red Wolves rugby standout, All-American and coach from 2010-2012 feels the university’s support has been a key to the club’s success.
“The support A-State provides the rugby club team promotes a high-performance culture. This, in turn, has provided a cumulative positive effect over the years in performance, training and recruiting.”
The rugby club does recruit players and also takes walk-ons and cross-over athletes. They have a tradition of recruiting internationally started by Curt Huckaby. One of A-State’s best players came from South Africa. Shaun Potgieter was an All-American five times and coached the team from 2015-2017 before recently stepping down. This season’s roster boasts players from South Africa, Australia, France, England and all around the U.S. The Red Wolves are a young team this year but full of talent and drive.
A-State enters the 2017-2018 season ranked 5th nationally but they’ll face a tough schedule with all teams in the D1 Mid-South Conference ranked in the top 25. The fall season opens in Texas at the Red River 7s National Invitational Tournament.
Rugby 7s is a variation of the game where seven players take the field instead of the normal 15, and play two seven-minute halves. The Red Wolves open at home at Curt Huckaby Field September 30th.
A-State Red Wolves Rugby Schedule:
Sept. 22 — Texas Red River 7s National Invitational Tournament (Fort Worth, Texas), 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — Memphis (Curt Huckaby Field), 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Alumni Weekend (Curt Huckaby Field), 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 — Missouri (Columbia, Mo.), TBA
Oct. 28 — Lindenwood Belleville (Curt Huckaby Field), 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 — Arkansas (Little Rock), TBA
Nov. 11 — Davenport (Grand Rapids, Mich.), TBA
Nov. 18 — Texas (Curt Huckaby Field), 1 p.m.
Follow the Red Wolves on their Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on their season and head out to Curt Huckaby Field to watch a rousing game of rugby this fall.
Photos courtesy of Arkansas State Rugby and used with permission.