Line of ‘Scrummage’

On The Town | Christian Cummins | October 2007

Austria’s first rugby club is becomingly increasingly more organized, serious, and competitive (Photo: Christian Cummins)

The locals play it passionately on the beaches in Fiji, they play it everywhere imaginable in New Zealand, they play it in the school-playgrounds of Wales and, I’ve heard, it’s the favourite way to while away the boredom for Scottish troops posted in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Now it’s being played in Austria. And it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!

"I’m your dummy! I’m your dummy!" shouts the dark-haired New Zealander as he scoops an oval-shaped ball from between the legs of the Austrian girl who’s crouching ahead of him.

"I’m wrapping, I’m wrapping, I’m wrapping!" shrieks an American team-mate as he sprints diagonally behind the pair, holding his hands out in begging expectation of the ball. Ahead of them, in a state of organised panic, a jagged-line of yellow-bibbed men and women are scrambling backwards. One of them screams as she retreats:

"Shift left! Shift left! I’ve got ball!" Grammar, I suppose, is a secondary concern when the adrenaline is flowing.

It’s no wonder people stop and stare at this circus, when the newly-formed Stade Viennois "Touch Rugby" Club trains on the Jesuitenwiese in the Prater on Sundays. But, believe me, it’s not as confusing as it seems. In fact, the sport’s main feature is its simplicity. It’s about running, evasion and teamwork. The aim of the game is to run with an oval shaped ball to the end of the pitch before being touched by an opponent. You can avoid being caught in possession of the ball either by dodging your opponents or by passing the ball backwards to a teammate.

Outside the traditional rugby playing nations, the intense physicality of the full contact game has deterred schools from trying out or promoting the sport. With touch rugby, however, you can experience the speed and adrenaline of one of the most team-orientated sports around, but with a greatly reduced risk of injury.

In truth, it’s no more brutal than basketball. The tackle, which in contact rugby roughly means being bundled to the floor, is replaced by a single-handed touch, which forces the attacking team to stop and start their offence again. Because it is non-violent, men and women play along side each other on the same team in games of touch rugby. Good communication, quick thinking and fitness are the vital elements. Muscle power is at best a secondary concern.

Dan Travers, a rugby-obsessed New Zealander, thinks it is the mixed element that makes touch such an attractive game:

"It takes the aggression away," he says. Dan has become a sort of pied-piper for the game in Austria and started up the Vienna club – to date the only official touch rugby club in Austria – himself.

Homesick for his national sport, he’d been playing touch casually for months with fellow ex-pats in Viennese parks.

But as the numbers rose, increased by curious on-lookers and through word of mouth, the group became more serious and more organised. It now trains regularly under flood lights, has a sponsor, and has just played its inaugural international competition. At the 3rd Bavarian Open in Munich, the team from Vienna matched up against teams from cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Zürich and finished a respectable 5th  out of 8 teams.

The core of southern-hemisphere rugby nuts has been joined by Argentines, Italians, Swiss, Brits, Germans, a Pole and even a girl from Montenegro. The number of Austrians playing is steadily increasing, with many of them showing a turn of pace and finesse of passing that are down-right alarming for those who grew up with the game.

But although the first Austrian club is becoming more organised and the games seem more serious, Dan insists the main element remains fun. Touch, played well, is played fast and with skill, but there’s always a lot of laughter during the games.

That was even the case at the sixth Touch Rugby World Cup, which was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, this January and involved 17 countries. Sabine Wolf from Vorarlberg took advantage of rather lax rules to play for the Swiss team. If we believe her report, it was as much an international party in the sun as it was a strict sporting event.

The club is always looking for new members and interested parties should visit the club’s homepage:

You might even find out what a ‘dummy’ is.

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