Yes. There is rugby in Costa Rica. But…is it here to stay?

In last five years, at least seven new Rugby teams have sprung up in Costa Rica — in spite of futbol’s unwavering popularity.

[quote_center]“Heart. Discipline. Fun.”

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That’s the motto shared on the page for Universitarios Club de Rugby, but what is this strange British sport taking up home in a country unquestionably devoted to Futbol?

Worldwide more than five million people play rugby in over 117 countries, and the numbers keep increasing. This is especially true for Costa Rica where at least seven new Rugby teams have sprung up in the last five years.

How is Rugby in Costa Rica Played

There’s a British saying that goes as follows:

[quote_center]“Rugby is a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen, and football [soccer] is a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans.”[/quote_center]

For those who may be less familiar with the sport, Rugby games are played most commonly between two teams of fifteen players during two forty-minute halves. After the drop kick and possible scrum for the ball, the goal is to run the oval-shaped ball in hand to appropriate goal zone at the end of the field before a player from the other team brutally tackles the forward carrying the ball. After a tackle, players may ruck for the ball in a sort of “doggy-pile” manner.

These forwards that are involved in running the ball are generally the larger and stronger of the team and are collectively called the “pack” but, in fact, are divided into three rows (front, second and back). The other group of players on the field are called the backs. Alternatively, they are the smaller and faster of the team whose goal is to recapture the ball and create point-scoring opportunities. Backs are also divided into three sub-groups (half-backs, three-quarters and fullbacks).

Although goals or tries are worth five points in Rugby Union games and are the primary way to score points, several other ways exist. Similar to North American Football, after a goal is made the scoring team is given an opportunity to make a conversion by kicking the rugby ball through an H-shaped post in the goal zone for an extra two points. Penalty kicks and drop goals are other options for gaining a lead and are each worth three points.

That said, there are several variations of the traditional rugby match. Rugby Sevens, for example, is a version of a Union game played with seven players (rather than fifteen) on each side. In these games, the match is also shorter. Sevens tournaments are quite popular amongst the Costa Rican clubs. In Rugby League games, on the other hand, the teams are only reduced to thirteen but the scoring is altered: a try is worth four points, a conversion is worth two, a penalty is worth two and a drop goal is worth one.

A Code of Conduct Beyond the Field

In order to live up to the aforementioned British saying, however, the sport must go far beyond the stadium. Earlier this year, the Rugby Federation of Costa Rica (FRCR) joined forces with the Down Syndrome Association of Costa Rica (ASIDOWN) to host an event called Get Into Rugby for players of all ages and abilities. The Rugby Federation of Costa Rica reports that the activities went so well that they plan to repeat the event again soon.

Last fall too, the San Jose Rugby Club invited 120 children ages 2 to 18 from various nonprofits around Costa Rica to take part in the activities of the Gran Final of the Liceo Franco Costarricense event. The kids were given an opportunity to learn about the sport and meet both the male and female players.

At its very heart, Rugby is an inclusive sport where each and every player knows they have both an important role and a team they can count on. “Rugby is special to me because… it’s a sport that welcomes all kinds of body types,” says Claudio Arce Cascante, player for the Rugby Cartago team. “Rugby 15s allows for the short, the tall, the fat, the skinny, the slow and the fast to play it. There are fifteen positions and they all need different characteristics to be played.”

What about the Future of Rugby in Costa Rica?

Despite rugby’s popularity among players, its fan base has not quite caught up. While both club and national level soccer continues to draw in thousands per game, the average rugby match in Costa Rica usually only boasts about 50 viewers.

Those that are already loyal, however, remain optimistic. Rugby Cartago, for example, is already planning to develop a youth team from the numerous teens that are already involved. They also want to recruit more men and women for their existing teams, win the national championship and begin playing games against clubs of other Central American countries like Panama and Nicaragua.

They are not alone. By next year, rugby’s popularity is projected to skyrocket. After all, Seven’s Rugby is set to take stage in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and guess who’s team just got unanimously admitted into the competition. Welcome, Costa Rica! Considering the sport grew 19% in global participation following the 2007 Rugby World Cup, it is quite possible that even we here in Costa Rica will be hearing of much more of the gentlemen and women playing this rough yet inclusive game.

For more information on Costa Rica Ruby  map, teams, locations, time-tables, and links, follow this link for a printable PDF: Costa Rica Rugby Teams, Schedules Maps and Links