NEWTON — Scoring plays are called tries. Player positions are props, hookers, scrum-half, fly-half, centre, fullback.
For the fourth year in a row, Newton high school boys are playing a different game in the spring. Players come from several other sports, including high school spring sports.
It’s rugby. Newton’s Cardinals are coming off a 2013 Class 1A state championship in the Iowa Youth Rugby Association, which is the governing body of high school level rugby. They play rugby 7s, which is a cutdown version of rugby union.
“Everything is in sevens — there are seven players a side on the field and seven-minute halves,” said Justin Liston. Liston and Bill Reed are co-coaches for the Cardinal team. They have been coaching the rugby team for four years.
On Friday, the 2014 Newton rugby team opened its season at home, hosting seven other IAYRA teams. Each team played two games at H.A. Lynn Stadium.
The Cardinals won both of their games by identical scores, 28-21. They defeated Van Meter in the opener then downed Boone later in the evening.
“We call this Olympic rugby since rugby will be in the 2016 Olympics. Sevens is a style of rugby fundamentally the same but without the brute force of the original game played with 15 players per side,” Reed said. “This style has been developed to help those with a desire and talent to play the game a path to possibly trying for the Olympics.”
Newton returns five players off the state championship team. Seniors Ray Schroder and Jake Smith are four-year players on the team. Schroder earned Class 1A All-State honors a year ago. Junior Cole Doerring is a third-year player and senior Jake Huizenga is a two-year player. Malachai Harris is the other returner.
“Our size is a strength. We have good size and most of the players out are upperclassmen. They are mature athletes,” Reed said. “This sport is pretty simple to pick up — you run with the ball, tackle the ball carrier and pass the ball to maintain possession.”
With 12 new players on the team, Reed and Liston weren’t sure what to expect. The Newton coaches got a good look at the team Friday night.
In the first game against Van Meter, the Cardinals responded with a score when they needed to against their opponent. It was 14-14 game at halftime.
Schroder bolted free for the first try, which in the IAYRA league counts for seven points, sliding across the scoring line and touching down the ball. Down 14-7, the Cardinal’s Huizenga got loose for a long run for the second try.
Van Meter pulled ahead 21-14 in the second half. Huizenga rolled down the far sideline on another long run, touching down the ball for the third try of the game for Newton.
As time moved inside a minute remaining in the game, Newton kept the ball on the attacking side of the field. Jake Smith broke a couple of tackles and ran for the winning try with four seconds left on the clock.
The games are played in seven-minute halves with a running clock. Time ran out with Newton winning, 28-21.
Later in the evening, Newton rallied from a 21-14 halftime deficit to beat Boone, 28-21. Jake Smith put the Cardinals up 7-0, but Boone tied it up. Huizenga scored for Newton. Boone used a quick tap penalty to score and tie the game again. Boone scored with no time on the clock to lead at the break.
Joseph Banfield ran back the second-half kickoff for a try and tied the game at 21-all.
“Back and forth movements for a little while eventually led to a series of good rucks and runs by many of the Newton players that resulted in Jake Smith scoring the go-ahead try with a couple minutes left in half,” Reed said. “ Good defense by the whole team allowed the guys to hold on for the win.”
A ruck is when the ball is dropped by a tackled ball carrier and a group of players from each team is trying to win possession of the ball. A scrum is a way to restart the game after a minor infraction on the field.
“Rugby is a fast-paced game with a lot of space and a lot of running,” Liston said. “It’s about running, tackling and passing. We have athletes on this team, so, we’re looking for good things this season once the guys learn the game.”
Other members of the team are David Braafhart, Cameron Porter, Riley Nine, Wesley Streeter, Zakk Weatherly, Tony Tellez-Jordan, Dillon Van Manen, Jacob M. Smith, Anthony Cornwall, Collin Daniels, Mason Bowes and Trent Wickliff.
“We want to thank all the fans who came out to support our team Friday night in less than desirable conditions,” Reed said. “The guys played pretty tough for the first night and they maintained good spacing on the field most of the time.”
Liston said the Newton players gritted it out at the end of the games to either win late or hang on for the win. He said the guys stayed positive and kept working hard even when things weren’t going well or Newton was behind.
“Our 12 new players all got valuable playing time in one or both games,” Reed said. “We’re undefeated at home for the last two years.”
The Newton rugby team plays Adel and Southeast Warren at Southeast Warren this Friday. The Cardinals play at home again on May 2 against Marion and Waterloo West.