Tartans continue Scottish tradition by playing rugby

After its 1871 debut with a match between Scotland and England, the sport of rugby has finally made its way to Carnegie Mellon, where students are continuing the tradition and representing the university’s Tartan heritage. With its roots in England, Scotland, and New Zealand, rugby is still a relatively unknown sport in the United States, but is rapidly gaining popularity.

Rugby is a combination of two familiar sports: soccer and football. The game is played on a grassy area similar to the size of a soccer field at 80 yards wide and 120 yards long, with scoring similar to that of football. A try, which is like a touchdown, is worth five points and a conversion kick is worth two points. A dropped goal, like a field goal, can be kicked for three points.

The match starts with a kickoff and 15 players on the field for each team: eight forwards and seven backs. Where the game gets complex is when the ball goes out of bounds or after a penalty. When the ball is out of bounds, a line-out occurs in which one team throws the ball inbounds to a team member. who is hoisted into the air. After a penalty, a scrum occurs and the eight forwards for each team attempt to push each other away from the ball while trying to kick the ball and “hook” it back toward their teammates behind them.

Similar to football, passing and tackling are important parts of a rugby game; however, they vary from the traditional concepts. In rugby, no forward passes are allowed; the ball must either be run for a gain or passed backwards. In addition, when tackling a player on an opposing team, the defender must maintain contact with the player, and tackling cannot occur above the midsection.
This season, the Carnegie Mellon club rugby team has a record of 1–1 in the two matches it has played against the University of Pittsburgh’s Division I club team.

In the players’ first game of the season, they struggled and ended with a 33–22 loss, but rebounded quickly and took revenge on the Panthers in a 14–13 victory March 22.

Sam Clanton, the Tartans’ coach, is a robotics graduate student working to mold the raw talent on the team, led by captain Walter King. The team is composed of many athletes who have not played rugby before, although a number of them are former Carnegie Mellon football players. The players practice for two hours twice a week in hopes of turning their athleticism into rugby talent.
While the skills are similar between football and rugby, the rules and regulations are not the same, which can sometimes pose difficulties. “The skill set from football transfers to rugby very well. The mentality and physicality of football make the transition much easier,” said former Tartan running back Robert Gimson, also a new member of the rugby team. “However, it is difficult to learn the rules and tackling is different, so adapting to new rules can be difficult for newcomers.”

Even with many new players, the team has a strong core of experienced leaders. While the Tartans are not yet a member of the Allegheny Rugby Union, after defeating University of Pittsburgh, they were placed in the Division II bracket at the Cooper’s Lake tournament this past Saturday.

The Tartans were defeated by Franciscan University 14–8 in their first game but rallied in their next, defeating Niagara University 12–7.

In the consolation game, Carnegie Mellon was tied with Clarion University at the end of regulation, but the team was defeated with a field goal in the final seconds of overtime, coming away with a 17–14 loss.

Although the season is already underway, the team welcomes new players to join anytime. For more information about the Carnegie Mellon rugby club, contact Walter King at