Rugby Role-Playing: Comparisons Between Theater and the Sport


“Oh, my god…No!” my friend Tory hollers over the silence of the audience as the medical team rushes over to her boyfriend Brian’s lifeless body on the grass.

For a few minutes, but what feels like an eternity for my friend, her boyfriend lies motionless on the ground after suffering a blow to the head midway through the fall opening game for the UMass Rugby team against Northeastern University. The referee calls out the illegal move made by the opposing team as Brian staggers to his feet with the help of several of his teammates. He spots his girlfriend in the crowd, flashes her a grin, and gives a thumbs up as he hurries back into position for the next play.

It was a false alarm and I could see my friend Tory, silently release her breath. The small, but dedicated crowd cheers on even with the pelting rain. I am part of this spirited audience, standing near the sidelines next to my overzealous friend, with a broken umbrella; we decided early on to stay rain or shine. I attended the opening game to keep Tory company because she went to support her boyfriend similar to how many of the spectators came to root for a family member, a friend, or a loved one. Attending my first rugby game has reaffirmed what I learned in Drama class; there are many connections between sports and theater. They both have their own lingo, audience, and specific goal.

The weather plays an important factor for both live events. In theater, it would be bad timing if there was heavy rain during a performance that took place on an outdoor stage.  The same goes for rugby where the games are held outdoors. On that particular day when I came to see UMass Amherst’s rugby team take on Northeastern University, there were ominous clouds looming over the field threatening to erupt midway during the game. UMass started strong on the offensive but struggled to keep their lead after landing first on the scoreboard. Halfway through the game, Northeastern was creaming us. It was a brutal game, and the heavy gray clouds threatened to pour down on us at any moment, reflecting the mood of the UMass fans.

I was among the small crowd who gathered on that dreary day to see the end of the game. I was amazed by a UMass photographer who called out “Nice Save” and offered other words of encouragement throughout the game to the team while knowing the players’ names and the game by heart. Then there was my friend Tory who was like a little firecracker, burning with energy as she cheered for her boyfriend Brian on the sidelines; even the rain could not wipe her effervescence and she continued rooting for UMass like a cheerleader. My friend, his family, and I all gathered together to watch Brian play rugby, even though we did not entirely understand the rules of the sport. Although UMass Amherst lost to Northeastern University 27-5, he stood out as one of the key players in the game for his perseverance. Likewise, even if a theater production is mediocre, there can be a star that shines brilliantly among the other actors for their melodramatic role in the play.

Rugby is also similar to theater in many other ways. Despite both events being performed live, there is a blueprint before each game and performance; rugby players practice and discuss certain moves beforehand with their coach like how actors rehearse their lines with their director in advance with the exception of improv. In both cases, the team and actors signal to each other with gestures and react from each others’ movements or words. In the rugby game that I attended, the coaches and some of the athletes were calling out numbers which were codes to adjust themselves and prepare for the plays that they were about to carry out.

The goal of the game was clear, to score as many points as you could by touching the oval ball down on the try zone without throwing the ball forward. The purpose of the event was to entertain the audience by playing this strategic game to find a winning team.  The long, plain grassy field was the setting for the rugby team as it gave the players enough space to fight for the ball. There were white, spray-painted lines to distinguish the goal lines and rope held up by sticks that surrounded the field to protect the audience. The players were both dressed in matching uniforms with their team to elevate a sense of camaraderie and pride in representing their school’s rugby team. UMass wore maroon jerseys with white bottoms while Northeastern University wore black all over with minimal details of red and white. As a girl with a passion for fashion, I could not help, but think that UMass Amherst’s rugby team could upgrade to black pants for their uniforms to pose a more threatening look against their opponents. The matching uniforms help the players get into the right mindset for their match like how costumes help performers act as their characters.

When actors and athletes prepare to perform on stage or on the field, they have to put their internal struggles aside. In rugby, the players take time off their personal lives by solely focusing on the game and fighting with aggression on the field. Whatever problems they are facing, they try to keep it in the back of their minds by channeling their stress towards the match instead. This reminds me of theater, and how actors have to remain composed when putting on a performance, rather than letting personal issues cloud their mind. Theater and sports are related because they are both forms of escapism, allowing players to enter a separate world where they put all their energy on different goals for a period of time. One of the greatest connections between both activities is that in each case, the audience is filled with people who are there to support a family member, a friend, or loved one as they tackle on their role. At the rugby game, it was amazing to see all the people who came for the love of the sport and the love of the team. In the middle of the game, the rain poured down on us, but by the end of the game, there were clear skies and the sun radiated above us, perhaps to offer the losing team some warmth after their defeat.


Disclaimer: The events depicted in this story, even those based on actual people, are mainly fiction. Changes were intentionally made for entertainment purposes.  

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