Rugby, a sport strangely unfamiliar to so many Americans — considering our love for its athletic cousin-of-sorts, football — still has its own place in the pantheon of Berkeley High School (BHS) clubs. The Berkeley All Blues girls rugby program is headed by coaches Sam Matsumoto and Erika Granger. It’s members are female students attending BHS and schools in the surrounding area.
Rugby Union, the most common form of the sport, is played with 15 players on the field: seven forwards and eight backs. The goal of the game is to successfully tap the ball in the endzone protected by the opponent. One can pass the ball, but only laterally or backwards. The opponent can stop an attacker by tackling them and stripping them of the ball. In the case of a contested call, eight players from each team will huddle up against each other — similar to offensive and defensive lines in football — and try to obtain possession of the ball by hooking it backwards with their feet. This is called a scrum and is used to settle the dispute.
All of these components of the game are incorporated into training during the Blues’ rugby practices and competitions. Given recent weather issues, practices have moved to locations such as the BHS football field. Nevertheless, these minor inconveniences haven’t been a deterrent for players or coaches, who remain in good spirits.
The positive atmosphere is fostered by the coaching staff and the team itself. Blues rugby exemplifies sportsmanship; at their practices, they lift each other up and support one another while simultaneously maintaining playful attitudes.
Ntima Mampouya, co-captain of the All Blues and a senior in the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), enjoys the aggressive component of the sport. “My favorite part is honestly just the feeling of running people over, you know. … When someone is coming at you trying to tackle you, and you’re able to run them over, I think that’s one of the best feelings,” said Mampouya.
Also a photography teacher at BHS, Matsumoto enjoys interacting with students beyond the classroom. “I’m lucky enough in that I have students … in my classroom [who] are also on the team, and just getting to see their strengths as athletes, especially for a women’s sport,” said Matsumoto. “I’m all for things that are about strong women, strong girls. … For contact sports, there aren’t that many opportunities.”
High school rugby is wildly popular in other countries, such as Ireland, South Africa, and New Zealand. However, the sport hasn’t achieved the same status or engagement in the United States. Coach Matsumoto discussed her views on the growth of American rugby, saying, “I would love to see it become as popular as soccer, or lacrosse, or football, especially for student athletes who could achieve varsity status. Or that it becomes better funded so there are more scholarship opportunities.”
The All Blues had their first tournament of the season on Saturday, October 31. “We lost all three games. But [there was] excellent sportsmanship and no major injuries, and lots of learning which are always my goals,” said Coach Matsumoto. With the devotion of players and coaches, the upcoming season looks good for the Berkeley All Blues.