Las weekend, fans crowded into PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union, but they weren’t there for an MLS game. The turnout was for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. And they sure got their money’s worth.
Throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, quarterfinal, semifinal, and final games were played in high school and womens’ divisions, but the main event was the college men’s final.
During regulation time, the University of California Golden Bears and the Kutztown Golden Bears battled for the lead. At the half, the score was tied 7-7. With 30 seconds left in the second half, a penalty was called on Kutztown, giving Cal a man-advantage. The game ended in a 12-12 tie and continued into sudden-death overtime.
On his last play in a Cal rugby uniform, senior fullback Jake Anderson ran the ball 55 yards for the winning try of the game. The final score was 17-12, and Anderson was awarded MVP of the tournament. He was also Cal’s high scorer in the tournament, as well as its all-time postseason points leader.
Attendance of the two-day tournament was record-breaking, with almost 25,000 fans between Saturday and Sunday.
"All the discussions about rugby's growth, especially the fast-moving Olympic sport of Sevens Rugby, have been building,” said Jonathon First, the president of United World Sports, in a press release about the event.. “The level of crowd engagement and enthusiasm this weekend really solidified what we have been working towards for the past few years. This event is becoming the 'must attend' not just for rugby fans, but for fans of sport in general.”
Rugby is a fast-paced sport with continuous play, much like soccer. It’s also a tackle sport, like football, but players don’t wear helmets or pads. The goal of the game is to get the ball into the “try zone,” which American football fans would know as the end zone.
Although it sounds exciting, rugby doesn’t have a huge following in the USA. But it is becoming more popular, especially at the high school and college levels.
The turnout — and excitement — at the Collegiate Rugby Championship is proof of that.
Photo: Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated