Sunday Conversation with Daniel Pretorius

Rugby isn’t ‘football without pads’

Georgia Youth Rugby Championship

On Friday, April 22, the City of Roswell is hosting the state final of the Georgia Youth Rugby Championship at Roswell Area Park, 10495 Woodstock Road, Roswell, Georgia, 30075. At 5:30 p.m., middle school-age competition kicks off between the Roswell Rebels and the Alpharetta Phoenix, with a showcase of elementary school-age rugby players to follow. The competition continues with junior varsity-age play between the Alpharetta Phoenix and the Cobb County Barbarians, The high school girls will show their stuff, followed by the high school competition between the Alpharetta Phoenix and the Lassiter High School Trojans that will conclude at 10 p.m.

If you are boning up on your sports for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, you may want to head to Roswell April 22 to check out the Georgia Youth Rugby Championship. For many of us, the extent of our knowledge of the sport consists of those cute shirts that Lands End and Orvis sell.

But here are a few tidbits about rugby that you might find interesting:

  • The U.S. is heading to the summer games in Rio de Janeiro the defending gold medalist in rugby (we took the gold the last time rugby was an Olympic sport, in 1924).
  • And another thing, rugby is making something of a splash right here in football land.

Longtime Roswell resident and realtor Daniel Pretorius, who also happens to be youth director of Rugby Georgia, talked about why the sport is taking off.

Q: Did you play rugby growing up?

A: I played rugby as a youth in South Africa before moving here 23 years ago. I've been involved with high school rugby for the past six years and now I'm youth director of Rugby Georgia.

Q: What is rugby, exactly?

A: It is one of the oldest American sports, brought over by the Europeans. American football and basketball are its spinoffs. Rugby is really the father of those two sports. Short answer, it is not football without pads.

Q: What are some of the rules?

A: There are 15 people on a team and everyone has an opportunity to catch the ball, pass the ball and run the ball. (The Olympic Game has seven players to a team.) You can pass the ball, which is a little bigger than a football, laterally or backward. Not forward.

Q: Is it more dangerous than football?

A: A lot of parents say, "Why would I play football without pads? It must be a very dangerous sport." That is not the case. It is a contact sport but where other sports have rules, we have laws. One of the laws is that we don't allow tackles above the shoulders. A few years ago, Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, started implementing rugby tackling techniques with his team. He has a video that explains why the rugby tackle is more efficient and so much safer than the traditional football tackle. We take the head out of the collision.

Q: So you are a safer sport?

A: We don't want to use other sports to say how safe our sport is. We are a contact sport and there are always scrapes and bruises. Our youth boys' team played 10 games this season. We had one concussion — and that happened in practice.

Q: Do you want to compete with football?

A: We do not want to compete with football. We are in the South and we know what football means here. We see ourselves as partners to football. We want football coaches to entrust us with their athletes in the off-season so we can teach them safer rugby tackling techniques. One of the great things about rugby is that there are two 40-minute halves without stoppages. When we give players back to their football coaches, they are so much fitter.

Q: Why is rugby becoming popular?

A: Certain sports have become so popular that kids never get into the game. With rugby, everybody gets to play. If we get too many players, we just start another team. As a coach, one of my favorite mottos is, "We coach a game but we teach life principles."