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Photographs by
Richard Kelly

Good Sport

Meghan Holohan


 Pitt’s rugby team during a game with the Franciscan B’s. The final score:
Pitt 42; Franciscan B’s 0.

The rain falls steadily, soaking the mud-encrusted men, chilling them. The men, built with thick knots of muscles, are running, passing a ball sideways, tumbling to the ground on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning.

It was a rugby kind of day.

The men were preparing for a weekend battle. These collegiate warriors have been fine-tuning their skills—passing, though never ahead, kicking the ball downfield, mauling, and rucking. The hooker in the front row, and the forwards moving together, three in front, crouched over, four behind them, all legs and arms interwoven like a human lattice, pushing and heaving against the other tangle of eight humans.

For the first time in Pitt’s history, the club team was going to the Allegheny Rugby Union (ARU) Championship. After a grueling season of playing teams like Ohio University and West Virginia University, the men battled Franciscan University for the ARU title, triumphing and advancing to the Midwest Sweet 16, where the University of Dayton defeated them.

Five-year veteran and president of the Pitt Rugby Club is James Szatala (who is the team’s hooker, similar to the running back for a football team). Szatala, an electrical engineering major, says some have the wrong impression of rugby. People think rugby is dangerous—a sport of broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses. People think a bunch of brutes beat up one another, inflicting pain. Rugby is a full-contact sport. Everyone from the skinniest freshman to the senior with the girth of a football player, passes the ball in practice, throwing a shoulder into the oncoming player before handing off the pass and turning. Sliding through the mud, men trample each other accidentally in the ruck (somewhat like a pile-up in football, only in rugby the game can continue if a standing player wrenches the ball from his fallen teammate). Sure, a ribbon of crimson dribbles out of an occasional nose or mouth. But there is more to the sport than violence.

More than anything, it is a team sport, the object being to run with an oval ball across the opponent’s goal line or kick it through the upper portion of the goal posts. Everyone falls victim to a tackle. Rarely can one player make it down the field without the help of his 14 teammates, stopping the defenders or tossing the ball backward to a teammate who can advance. Szatala says that because rugby is continuous, only pausing for injuries and half time, the team must communicate with each other on the field. The team spends three evenings a week, spring and fall, rain or shine, on the Cathedral lawn, and Szatala says they all make an effort to see each other more often. Coach Dan Talbert (CAS ’99), a player and founder of the Pitt Rugby Alumni Association, credits last fall’s successful season to the relationship between team members.

“Pitt’s success rises and falls with how close the team is,” Talbert says. Not only are they hanging out and practicing together, but they also hit the gym together or run to keep in shape. And, Talbert explains, they know how one another plays and what to expect on the field

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