Rugby on the rise, longhorns spreading awareness through combine


Freshman physics major Bill Monat tries to evade a tackle in this weekend’s rugby combine. Monat placed first in this part of the tryout which was held in hopes of finding a new Texas Rugby member. (Photo courtesy of Michael Giurgea)

Kristin Otto

Bill Monat, a 19 year-old freshman, was first introduced to Texas Rugby just a few weeks ago after players on the team spotted him leaving his dorm. After attending rugby practices last week, the 6-feet-1-inch, 215-pound Chicago native agreed to compete in a rugby combine like no other.

Last Saturday, the Texas Rugby team, in collaboration with its training partners at RedBlack Gym, hosted a CrossFit-style combine during which Longhorn men competed in ten physically draining, mentally taxing tests.

Although 30 men originally committed to participate in the combine, fewer than 20 Longhorns made an appearance at Clark Field on Saturday morning. The resignation of one competitor after only the warm-up was a clear indication that the combine had not been designed for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.

Because CrossFit is committed to conditioning every physical and psychological factor utilized during an athletic performance, the participants at the combine were faced with workouts that targeted numerous facets of their athleticism including agility, explosiveness, speed, endurance and strength. In addition, the event incorporated rugby-specific evasion and tackling drills.

The first test was a two-round, tri-part challenge designated as the workout of the day — WOD, in CrossFit lingo — that was unanimously voted the toughest challenge. In groups of four, the athletes swung 53-pound kettlebell weights, starting from a slacked-arm position, over their heads 21 times. Next, they dropped to the ground and cranked out 12 push-ups. Then, they jumped to their feet and sprinted 400 meters, only to return to the starting position and repeat the process one more time.

“At the beginning, we wanted to give them a taste of what CrossFit is all about. We planned the WOD test first to weed out the ones that we knew wouldn’t make it,” RedBlack Gym trainer Travis Holley said. “Then we moved on to the sport-specific and skills test and finished with the broad athleticism [endurance] workout.”

Four tests into the combine, a few competitors began to catch the attention of the current Texas Rugby team members who were running the event. One of these standout athletes was Monat.

From both defensive and offensive linebacker to running back, Monat played many football positions throughout high school but never considered rugby. However, unlike the majority of competitive sports, Texas Rugby president Noah Villalobos is well-aware that prior involvement is not necessary for success in rugby.

“Most guys start playing rugby when they’re freshmen in college [and] don’t have any previous experience … At the collegiate level, [put] an [elite] athlete on the field and he will dominate.”

At the end of the day, Monat finished second overall, placing first in the 20-pound medicine ball throw — with a ridiculous measurement of 28.7 feet — the kettlebell floor press as well as the rugby-specific evasion drill.

Drawn to the dynamic, fast-paced nature of the sport — which he prefers over football — Monat intends to pursue the rugby team.

Villalobos had various goals for the combine, including identifying elite athletes who could potentially help the 19th nationally-ranked Longhorns in their pursuit of a first place win at the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship in June, an event invented three years ago in a response to a rapidly-growing interest in the sport.

“If Bill gets his rugby skills up, he will play in the CRC,” Villalobos said.

By finding Monat as well as several other promising athletes, Villalobos achieved one of his goals. However, the purpose of the combine was more than a recruiting venture.

“Not enough of the population knows about rugby,” Villalobos said. “[The combine is just] another step in letting more and more people know what rugby is and what it takes.”

For the first time in 88 years, rugby will be featured in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Attempts to heighten the sport’s awareness in America range from competitions at the national level — like the rugby championship — to local endeavors such as the CrossFit combine.