Several years ago, when e-mail was young, I got a message from a freelance writer in New York state who was pitching a story idea. A couple of times during our exchanges she used the word “scrum.” Born and raised in the south I was not familiar with that word. “It is a rugby term,” she explained, “used for putting the ball in play.” I liked the word and since in those days I was being instructed to create a password with every new web discovery, I decided to make SCRUM my permanent password. It was mysterious, easy to remember and, besides, hardly anyone in this part of the country would ever guess it.
From that moment I thought I would be SCRUM for life. The problem though was that the word was too short. It kept on being rejected by each new website, which demanded I should have at least ten letters in my password plus at least one number.
So, in the whole history of rugby, I was perhaps the first person ever to be scrubbed from using “scrum.”
Last Saturday I finally go to see real scrums in action as I witnessed the local rugby team, the NOLA Gold, take on the Houston Sabercats.
I wish I could be like a sportswriter and describe the game with knowledge, but the truth is I know hardly anything about rugby. It is the sport from which football evolved and there are goal lines to which each team battles to get to. What we would think of as being a touchdown is worth five points; our version of an extra point kick awards two points.
There are terms such as “maul” and “grubber” for which I have no idea what they mean. I do know a scrum when I see it through. It is sort of like a jump ball in basketball except that it is done with eight players on each side pounding each other to get to the ball and to flick it to a nearby teammate.
This is a very rough game and the soccer-like uniforms offer little protection as the players tackle and pile on each side. There are a total of 15 players on each team. I expected to see 30 serious injuries. Instead, there was only one noticeable ailment from which a player limped off the field.
Despite not knowing much about the game, I – who had allowed for the possibility of leaving at half-time – enjoyed the entire match. One of its most endearing traits is that it is fast paced. If a ball changes hands or is dropped, the playing continues. There is no futzing around between every play as there is in that other sport. “Two Minute Warning?” Hah, that’s for sissies. (Curiously, the referees inexplicably wear pink uniforms.)
There are two forty minute halves with a scheduled stop for “hydration” at the middle of each. Other than that, it is head knocking.
On the opposite side, the Houston Sabercats must have missed the memo when packing because they wore gold jerseys. The real Gold, our team, wore striped shirts of purple, green and gold as though they were waiting for Endymion to come down Airline Highway.
These teams belong to an organization called Major League Rugby. In the context of the United States where there are few rugby leagues these players ARE the major leaguers. A neighbor who knows the sport and the players tells me that several of them have been topflight in other countries and others show promising futures. To me all the players looked athletic with firm bodies that are less susceptible to injuries as well as good speed and some with an uncanny ability to leap, a skill that’s needed especially when a ball comes flying out of a scrum.
Half time entertainment was some kids dressed like crawfish who raced crawling backwards like a crawfish does. The winner got a $50 gift certificate to experience the real thing. Recorded music gave the event a lively bounce though a small band that was led by a sousaphone player had a hard time being heard above the beat.
And now sports fans, about the game: With two minutes left the Gold led 28-26. After a collision, Houston managed to control the ball (which is shaped roughly like a football but is bigger and white) and began moving it toward the line. With only ten second left the Sabercats were close to reaching their goal line but then, after another crash of bodies, the Gold came with up with both the ball and the win.
It was a thriller.
Games are played at the facility formerly known as Zephyr Stadium and now, for rugby, referred to as, “The Gold Mine.”
I will go back.
If you go, just know that even if you don’t understand the game, at least the action is continuous and usually exciting. And remember, each time the Gold crossed the goal line, that’s good.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.