Rugby players forge bonds over sport

Joe “Pips” Miller reels off a list of typical rugby injuries like they’re no big deal. “Broken fingers, broken ribs, sometimes a concussion,” he said. “Once, I separated my clavicle and the surgery was worse than the injury.”

Gabbi “Gibbi” Tutoni got a scare while wrestling an opponent to the ground. “Someone landed on top of me and hit something in my back the wrong way,” she recalled. “But it was just a strain and I was fine.”

Despite the peril of playing a rough sport with only a mouth guard for protection, the Hudson Valley Rugby Club — known as the Rebels — fields men’s and women’s teams during league play in the fall and friendly exhibitions in the spring. The players include residents of Philipstown and Beacon as well as Poughkeepsie, Middletown, Marlboro, Hopewell Junction, Highland, Wappingers Falls and Newburgh.

Grace "Wildcard" Mei, the women's club president, shows off her mouthguard. "On the field and in life, I am unpredictable," she said, to explain her nickname.
Grace “Wildcard” Mei, the women’s club president, shows off her mouthguard. “On the field and in life, I am unpredictable,” she said, to explain her nickname. (Photo by M. Ferris)

On March 13, at the first weekly outdoor practice of the season at Sarah Taylor Park in Fishkill, one player said he felt like an unleashed dog. In no time, legs and shirts became caked with mud and knees got skinned. Ten women practiced the proper tackling technique, which is to wrap up ball carriers at the thighs and throw them to the ground. 

Tutoni said she appreciates the game’s egalitarianism. “In other sports, there are all these modifications in the women’s rules,” she said. “It’s empowering to have a contact sport like rugby where the rules are the same for every player, at every level.”

Despite what looks like a free-for-all, players suffer fewer injuries than other physical games, claimed Garrison resident Gabriel Salas, the men’s coach.

“Rugby channels controlled aggression,” he said. “The purpose of the collision is to take the ball away, not throw a shoulder and knock the person over. We wrap correctly and never touch anything above the sternum.”

GabrielSalas, the men's coach, instructs Rebel players during a drill at a recent practice.
Salas, the men’s coach, instructs Rebel players during a drill at a recent practice. (Photo by M. Ferris)

To fans of American football, rugby’s more violent offspring, the goalposts will look familiar. Kickers can score a field goal by booting the ball through the uprights on the fly. 

But the action looks chaotic because the oblong ball is in constant motion and there are few stoppages of play during the 80-minute matches. Players, who can only pass backward, lurch about like an amoeba. If the ball falls forward during a possession, each team converges in a scrum to secure control.

“On the field, it’s like a big jiu-jitsu fight,” said Kilian “Frenchie” Duclay, who lives in Beacon. “The adrenaline is crazy.” 

Rugby is a derivative of soccer that evolved during the 1840s at the Rugby School in England, then spread within the British Empire and beyond. The game became an Olympic sport in 2016, with seven players per side.

Salas said he learned the game in Chile while attending a British school and Duclay has watched matches for nearly his entire life because his father, who grew up in France, played the sport.

The Basics of Rugby

Rugby is traditionally played with 15 players on each team. A game consists of two 40-minute halves, with a running clock.

rugby ball
A rugby ball

A team receives five points if it crosses the opponent’s goal line with the ball, known as a “try.” After scoring, a team can attempt to score two more points by kicking the ball between the crossbars at the front of the end zone as a place or drop kick. Drop-kicking the ball through the crossbars during play is worth three points, as is a penalty kick awarded by the official.

A player can throw the ball to a teammate but it must travel across the field or backward. If a forward pass is made, the referee will award a “scrum,” in which players from each team compete for possession.

Only a ball carrier can be tackled. When brought to the ground, the runner must release the ball, the tackler must release the runner and the players must roll away from the ball. This allows other players to fight for possession. A “ruck” is formed when the ball is on the ground and players close around it. They must use their feet to move the ball so that it emerges where it can be picked up.


Since the Hudson Valley club’s inception in 2001, the Rebels have bounced around the area, said Miller, who grew up in Garrison and is the men’s team captain. For 15 years, its home field was at Rombout Middle School in Beacon, where players would sink PVC pipe into the turf to install metal goalposts for practices and games.

After matches or on off-days, players sometimes meet at Max’s on Main in Beacon at the behest of Justin “Snorlax” Lamoree, who lives nearby and summons the faithful via phone app. Asked about his nickname — a rotund Pokémon character — he rubbed his belly and smiled.

For players, the camaraderie can be more important than the activity, and the specter of violence forges tight bonds among combatants.

“We’re in the mud together and it’s one of the best feelings in the world,” said Duclay. “When you’re on the field, nothing else matters and you look past the possibility of injury because it’s so damn fun. Then you grab beers with the opponent you’ve been tackling all day. It’s a great culture.” 

The first match of the spring season for the men’s team is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday (March 23) at Sarah Taylor Field against the Suffolk Bullmoose. The women will kick off at 11 a.m. on April 6 against an opponent to be determined. See

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Marc Ferris is a freelance journalist based in Croton-on-Hudson.

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