Rugby, the ‘sleeping giant’ sport, awakens in U.S.

Sandra Schwendeman with USA rugby players Zack Test and Carlin Isles

Sandra Schwendeman (left), president of the UIC Women’s Rugby Club, meets with USA Eagles 7s players Carlin Isles (center) and Zack Test during practice in Chicago. — Photo: Timothy Nguyen


By Sandra Schwendeman

Sandra Schwendeman, president of the UIC Women’s Rugby Club and senior in anthropology, talked with USA Eagles 7s men’s rugby players Zack Test and Carlin Isles during practice in Chicago. 

The USA Eagles men’s rugby team might have fallen to New Zealand Saturday, but the game was a huge turning point for the sport.

The national rugby team played in front of a sold-out crowd of 60,000 fans at Soldier Field, giving the sport major recognition in the United States. The match was the first time the team has played at a major stadium and sold all seats, as well as the first time New Zealand has played in the U.S. since 1980.

“We are a sleeping giant that needs to be awoken and it’s happening right now,” Zack Test, centerfield player for the USA Eagles 7s team, said during practice Oct. 27 in Chicago.

Test is a member of the Eagles 7s team, which did not play in the match at Soldier Field. The USA team includes a group of 15 players, the traditionally more popular version of rugby, who played Nov. 1, as well as a team of seven versatile and fast players who compete in other matches.

Because rugby is such a physically demanding sport, USA Rugby teamed with Astellas Pharm US and the Men’s Health Network to offer free health screenings near campus during their Oct. 27 practice to emphasize the importance of regular checkups.

Carlin Isles, a wing for the USA Eagle 7’s team, emphasized the importance of being healthy. Isles, known as the fastest man in rugby, has only been playing for two years. He grew up playing football and running track and switched to professional rugby.

Test, on the other hand, has been playing rugby in his off-season from football since high school. He looked to rugby as a way to perfect his tackle technique. He stresses that health and recovery for professional athletes is everything.“Your body is a palace; if you don’t treat it well, it won’t treat you well,” he said.

Test and Isles, who are both likely to play on the 2016 Olympic team, both enjoy the culture and family atmosphere that comes with playing rugby. In some sports, a player only has one job to do, such as protect a goal or pitch the ball, Test said. But in rugby, everyone does everything collectively to win, he said.

Young rugby players should pay attention to the little details of the sport, Test said.  “If you can’t execute the perfect pass, catch, or tackle, then you can never be an amazing player.”

Rugby players must “be a student of the game, learn everything and perfect everything to become the player that you want to be,” Isles said.

UIC has men’s and women’s club rugby teams. For more information on the women’s team, email; email for information on the men’s team.

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