Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club's summertime just-for-fun beach rugby matches are every Thursday starting around 6:30 p.m. and lasting until nightfall. Anyone can play and there are no fees. The friendlies are played on the sands behind the Plunge Beach Hotel in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club's summertime just-for-fun beach rugby matches are every Thursday starting around 6:30 p.m. and lasting until nightfall. Anyone can play and there are no fees. The friendlies are played on the sands behind the Plunge Beach Hotel in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. (Courtesy of Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club/TNS)

It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. Your age doesn't matter. Even if you don't know a thing about the game; it doesn't matter. You can play beach rugby.

All you have to do is show up at the just-for-fun matches every Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m. on the sands behind the Plunge Beach Hotel in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The friendlies are held by the Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club during their summertime off-season.

"They've been doing this since the club was founded, since the '70s," explains Vincent Booth, who joined the club in 2006 and is now the vice president. "It's an annual tradition. Everyone can come. We usually get people through social media or word of mouth usually, actually a lot of word of mouth. People tell their co-workers about it, like 'Hey you can get some exercise, get a beach run in and it's fun.' My wife comes. We get families, even 5- and 6-year-olds running around. It's not tackle. It's touch rugby - until you get to the waterline where you can be tackled, but 90% of it is touch."

POST-MATCH PLAYBACK

The matches go on until nightfall and then everyone usually heads to a nearby restaurant/bar, Booth says.

"The camaraderie of the people in general, it's very welcoming, very open. It's addicting. When it gets dark out, everyone goes out into the water, we go to a bar and shoot the s -- t and talk. We even have guys come down from Miami and Boca. They come down a play and then they transition back to their Boca side."

Booth says the apres-game socializing is part of the tradition as well, stretching back to when the Plunge Hotel was a Howard Johnson's and there was a Holiday Inn on the southern end of El Mar Drive, the street that borders the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with the popular Anglin's Square forming a midpoint.

And there's another social component, what they call the Buffalo Beach, a sort of casual mini-tournament that's also a bit of a bring-a-dish beach barbecue dinner. "Our way of officially ending the beach season," Booth adds. The Buffalo Beach takes place by the volleyball nets that are behind the B Ocean Resort at 1140 Seabreeze Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.

WHEN AND WHERE

The touch rugby games are on the beach behind the Plunge Hotel, in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The matches start at 6:30 p.m. The unofficial summer season usually goes until mid to late September, when the rugby tournament season starts.

The Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club, with about 60 members, hosts the Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest played in Fort Lauderdale's Mills Pond Park, where the team usually practices and plays.

For more information, go to Facebook.com/FTLRUGBY, Instagram.com/ftlrugby and/or FTLrugby.com.

SO WHAT IS RUGBY ANYWAY?

The DNA of American football can be found in rugby, which got its start around 1845 at the Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. Eventually there was a split, forming rugby league and rugby union, each with different rules.

Fort Lauderdale Knights Rugby Club plays rugby union, which is the more popular of the two worldwide.

There are 15 players on each team, divided into packs and backs. Packs tend to be bigger and are akin to defensive lineman in American football. Backs are usually faster and more nimble.

The idea is to score a goal - known as a "try" - by working the ball (which is similar to an American football) to the inside of the opposing team's end zone and earning five points. But unlike American football, there is no forward passing. In rugby you can only pass to a player who is behind you during play. Another difference: Rugby is a game of near constant motion, stopping only for penalties.

The other ways of scoring include a conversion kick for two more points after a team has scored with a try. Then there is the "drop goal" for three points, where a player kicks the ball through the opposing team's uprights, which are those H-shaped posts on either side of the pitch (which is what you call the field of play). Penalty kicks are also worth three points.

One of the most iconic formations in rugby union is the "scrum," where eight players from each team form three tightly packed and interlocked rows. Both sides then lock shoulders, which forms a sort of tunnel between the two teams. The ball is then rolled into the tunnel by the team with possession, and both teams try to get the ball using only their feet while simultaneously trying to force the other team backwards.

The other formation that casual rugby observers might recognize is the "line out." After a ball carrier is tackled out of bounds, the play stops and then the offensive team has a player throw the ball above a tunnel formed by both teams, which then lift their players into the air to try to grab the ball.

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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