Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs aren’t the only experts in the art of tackling in Chicago. The ladies of the North Shore Rugby Club do just fine, thank you, and they don’t even need helmets or pads.
The city-based rugby team recently scrummed its way to the national championship game for the Division 1 Club league against the Glendale Raptors, which will take place Sunday in Virginia Beach, Va.
RedEye caught up with North Shore captain Jenny Lui, and the 29-year-old Ukrainian Village resident talked about her team’s success and why women’s rugby players aren’t necessarily what you think.
Your team finished third last year and is in the title game this year. What has made you so successful lately?
This group of individuals has been around a long time, some players for seven or eight years. We’ve built consistency because of that while also adding new talent. So having a strong core and adding some new pieces means that we’re really hitting our stride.
What’s the appeal of the sport? Why do you enjoy it?
For me as a woman, part of the appeal is that it’s the only contact sport for women and it’s pretty much the only sport where the rules are exactly the same for men and women. Women can’t check in hockey and can’t run each other over. In high school, I was the one fouling out of basketball games and getting yellow [cards] in soccer, so I craved that contact you get playing this sport.
What kind of stereotypes do you have to deal with as female rugby players?
Obviously, the stereotype is that you’re not feminine if you play rugby, that you’re a bunch of big ogres. That’s not true, there’s people on the team who look like everyone else--they put on makeup, do their hair, and people are completely surprised when they hear that we play. It’s annoying, but by having more exposure to the sport people can see it’s not just a bunch of tomboys.
Are you excited that rugby will be an Olympic sport for 2016?
It’s huge for rugby and it’s going to improve the quality of the game because more people will be exposed to it and start playing at an earlier age. For youth leagues here, soccer and football are the sports to do, and people usually don’t get into it until college. In New Zealand, they play rugby the way kids here start football at age 6. Also, I think sponsors are starting to pay attention to rugby and that’s a good thing because we travel basically every weekend and it’s not a cheap sport to play, so that will be helpful.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.