The UW-Madison rugby club plays its home matches on the western edge of the University Bay fields, prudently near UW Hospital. Its out-of-the-way location recalls an Oscar Wilde description of the sport: "Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city."
In reality, the Wisconsin players fit another often-heard description of rugby, as a hooligan's sport played by gentlemen. Between two squads - the top players form the Reds with the backups playing for the Blacks - about 50 guys play the sport at Wisconsin, many of whom show up at the first practice not knowing the difference between a ruck and a scrum.
"We show them the basics," says Ryan McGlynn, a junior scrum half who has played since high school. "But we say the best way to learn the game is to play it, so we try to get guys playing right away."
The Reds are 2-1 so far with Midwest Conference play beginning this weekend at Iowa. The team's goal is to win the conference title and qualify for nationals, which McGlynn believes will require an undefeated season. Standing squarely in the way is top rival Minnesota. They host the Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium in two weeks as part of RugbyDayMinnesota festivities, which promise to attract thousands.
"Last year we lost to Minnesota in the game to go to nationals, and that's turned into a pretty big rivalry," says McGlynn. "I played up there as a freshman and we had about 2,000 spectators, which is a pretty big crowd for college rugby."
Why not play up this rivalry in Madison, with next year's Minnesota match at Camp Randall Stadium? It's still pretty close to the hospital.