EDWARDSVILLE – Developed in England in the 19th century, rugby football – so named for the school where the game was invented, the Rugby School – has become a very popular sport throughout the world. The St. Louis area, indeed, does have an impressive tradition when it comes to the version of the game known as Rugby Union.

Rugby in the area dates back to 1933, when a man named Harry Langenberg, who had been exposed to the game while attending Princeton, organized, along with two other men, organized the Missouri Rugby Football Union to introduce the game to people in the area.

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The game has continued to grow and came to the Edwardsville area in 2014 with the beginnings of the Mercenaries Rugby Club, a part of the Sunday Morning Rugby Club of St. Louis; the club is seeking players from throughout the Riverbender area to come out and give the game a try. The club is affiliated with the Missouri Rugby Football Union, which is sanctioned by the game's national governing body, USA Rugby.

“Things are going well for us,” said Nicholas Pierce-Cramer of the Mercenaries. “We're trying to get rugby going here on the Illinois side of the (Mississippi) river. We're into our spring season right now and we have training sessions at Township Park in Edwardsville (located near Metro East Lutheran High School on Center Grove Road).

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“We've played several matches already on our spring schedule and we're planning on playing 6-7 matches on our fall schedule this year.”

Rugby football is the kind of game that anyone of any size can enjoy. “We have a wide range of players on the club,” Pierce-Cramer said. “I'm a pretty big guy myself and we've had players who are about 5-8, 5-10 play as well. It's a game that anyone can play.”

The image of some who may have viewed rugby is that the game is a very rough one; in fact, strict rules about contact and tackling are enforced on a consistent basis in the course of a match. “The rules help protect both sides,” Pierce-Cramer said. “It's actually a very safe game; in fact, because of the concern about concussions, many football teams (led by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks) are teaching rugby-style tackling skills now.”

Contact above the shoulders and below the legs is not allowed and arms must be used when attempting to execute a tackle in rugby union; players from the team the tackler plays for may also enter the tackle attempt, but must do so from behind and are subject to the same rules used for tackling. Matches are 80 minutes long, divided into two 40-minute halves with the referee keeping time on the field, much like a referee in soccer does.

For more information on the club and how to get involved, visit the Mercenaries' web site, www.mercenariesrugby.com, or visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/mercenariesrugby. Training sessions are held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Township Park.

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