By Samantha Thompson

Rugby—it’s just like football, but without the pads, breaks, or the halftime marching band.

And at last Saturday’s Slugfest, this was the game that rookies on the UCSC men’s rugby team got well-acquainted with.

“This is just a good little baptism by fire, right away to get them into it,” Scott Carson, assistant coach, said. “It lets them see what it’s all about and it immerses them in the rugby culture a little bit.”

With a clear view across the bay from the East Field and with the sun shining overhead, the Slugs couldn’t have asked for a better day to teach the team’s dozen or so newcomers the ins and outs of the game.

“It’s our first action of the year, generally,” senior Aaron Dann-Gibbs said. “It’s where all our rookies get to get out there and hit someone besides [one another]. We just use it as a building experience.”

Even though coaches believe that it could take years to really learn rugby, this tournament is used as a crash course for younger players to experience the harsh sport while they play.

“Today we’ve got [both of our squads] split equally, so we could get a lot of the new guys experience,” Carson said. “Instead of just having the blind leading the blind.”

Slugfest also serves as a small fundraiser for the team through entry fees paid by visiting teams. Though some rain the previous day kept a few teams from attending, UC Davis, Cal Poly and Santa Clara University still came to take part in the all-day tournament.

The regular rugby season does not officially start until January, but the team is already looking to find that national championship title, just like the women’s rugby team did two years ago. The women’s rugby team will be hosting their own Slugfest Nov. 3.

“I want that national championship,” Dann-Gibbs said. “It’s what I’ve wanted every single year.”

Although the Slugs 5-2 record over the past few years has put them on the verge of either playoffs or a national title, the hope this year is that they will come out of the regular season with one more win and put them in a better position to play in the national championship match.

“Two years ago we lost to the national champions by one point,” Dann-Gibbs said. “Humboldt State, who’s in our league, has made it to the national championships every year and we’ve been competitive with them, so we feel we’re a top team.”

But before the season gets underway, the team is staying focused on getting the rookies comfortable with the rough game of rugby, and Slugfest was the perfect opportunity to showcase the team’s new talent and gorgeous venue.

“It’s always exciting to come out here and see some rugby played-out on these fields,” said Kevin “Skippy” Givens, director of intramural and club sports. “The venue is unbelievable, especially when teams show up and they hadn’t seen it before. It’s really inspiring.

“And to see all the young players playing for UCSC,” Givens said. “It’s also a bit of a rejuvenation when we can get them out on the pitch and see what they’re made of, and teach them the game.”

_Reporting by Katia Protsenko, Co-Managing Editor_