The Columbia Rhinos Rugby Club practices and plays at Owens Field Park in Columbia. (Photos courtesy of the Columbia Rhinos Rugby Club)
The Rhinos and the Bombshells rugby clubs offer the opportunity for people to play rugby competitively in Columbia while building a close-knit community.
And they’ve been doing it for decades.
The Rhinos, an all-male team, was created between 1967 and 1972 so alumni of the University of South Carolina Rugby Club could continue playing after graduating.
The Bombshells were started by the wives and girlfriends of members of the Rhinos as a way for the women also to enjoy the game.
Today, players from all over the world have spots on both teams’ rosters.
“We have guys on the team who are from South Africa and Ireland,” said Rhinos President Lex Ames. “We have obviously lots of South Carolinians and other Southerners. But we have people who are transplants from other parts of the country who have either played rugby in the past or decided they wanted to take it up.”
Playing the game
Playing for either of the two teams offers an opportunity for people to play rugby at a competitive level.
The Rhinos are a Division 3 team in the Carolinas Geographical Rugby Union, which is a part of USA Rugby.
The Bombshells are a Division 2 team that plays in the same region.
“We play teams from Charlotte, Charleston, Savannah, all over North Carolina, sometimes teams from Georgia, like Augusta or Alpharetta, teams like that,” Ames said. “So … anywhere within about a three-to-four-hour drive is where we’ll go or who will come to us.”
No experience is required to join either team. They welcome anyone who has an interest in playing.
“There’s a whole network of it, and all the teams are basically club run – really anybody can kind of come out and play it,” said player Tyler Cole. “It’s pretty competitive, though, even at the lower division levels and stuff like that. Everybody still goes out every weekend and tries to win and takes things pretty seriously.”
Cole played rugby in high school and college before taking some time off after graduation. He joined the Rhinos to “chase that competitive rush again.”
The Bombshells practice next to the Rhinos on Owens Field Park in Columbia. And the two teams often will get together to host double headers.
“We try to have home games together so that we can build it as Columbia Rugby Club, as one club instead of two individual teams,” Bombshells coach and captain Callie Woods said.
There are two types of rugby that the teams play: rugby 15s and rugby 7s.
Rugby 15s, also known as Rugby Union, is mostly played starting in the fall, while the shortened version of the game, rugby 7s, is played in the summer.
The number refers to the amount of players on the field during a game. In the full game, 15 players are on the field with eight reserves.
“It’s like baseball for the most part, where once you come out of the game, you don’t typically go back into the game unless there’s an injury situation,” Ames said.
They also play what are called “friendlies” against teams that don’t count toward their standings in the league. This allows them to play teams they would not normally get to play, Ames said.
In March, the Rhinos had a big moment.
They won the men’s division at the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day tournament, one of the biggest men’s tournaments on the East Coast, Cole said.
“That was pretty cool because, again, it was chasing that winning feeling again, that I hadn’t really had since I was back in high school, winning championships,” Cole said.
A big family
From hosting team dinners to just hanging out after practice, the two teams have a close-knit relationship with each other.
“It’s kind of something that brings a bunch of different people together,” Cole said. “So you have an immediate friend group.”
Woods joined the Bombshells about five years ago after playing rugby at USC.
She said the two teams are a “family outside of your own family.”
“We always do stuff together on and off the field,” Woods said. “We’re always hanging out. It’s like a group of instant friends, but also instant friends that’ll have your back no matter what.”
Joining the teams is a way for people moving to Columbia for work to meet new people and join an active group of friends, Cole said.
“I know for a lot of people that right after they graduate college and stuff like that, they move to new cities and have some trouble meeting some new people,” he said. “You immediately have a big friend group and family to kind of hang out with and do things with.”
Club President Lex Ames said the teams will come together to help out members who are struggling to be able to play because of circumstances in their lives.
“It’s a very positive force in our lives.” Ames said. “It brings us into contact with people we might never have met otherwise.”
Connecting with the community
Both teams also are always looking for ways to connect with the Columbia community.
That could be setting up booths at Columbia’s Soda City market on Saturday mornings or volunteering at the annual Five Points St. Pat’s Festival.
“We just want to be very active and very a part of our community here in Columbia,” Woods said.
Both teams get out into the community to help spread the word about the team while also fundraising for themselves and other philanthropies.
The Bombshells and the Rhinos go out to volunteer together most of the time, but the Bombshells will go out to volunteer with the women’s community in Columbia.
“I know that like women’s team in particular, we volunteer by helping the local Columbia Women’s Shelter every year,” Woods said. “We either do like a donation drive or something like that.”
Making a name for themselves is a goal for the Columbia rugby clubs in the next couple of years, Cole said.
“And we think it’s beneficial for everybody,” Cole said.
Catching a game
No tickets are required to check out a game at Owens Field.
Confused by the game?
The sport combines the aspects of several contact sports such as hockey, soccer and football.
“The best way to get to know and understand rugby is to watch it,” Woods said. “I mean, you’ve got to watch it.”
About 100 to 200 people will attend on a nice day with their families, Ames said
Cole encourages people who are curious about rugby to come out and meet the team to see how passionate they are.
“I’ve never had anybody come out to the game for the first time that hasn’t asked me when the next one is,” he said.
The main roster for matches in rugby consists of 23 players for each team. That includes 15 players on the field and eight reserves.
The Rhinos Rugby Club was created sometime between 1967 and 197. The records on the exact founding are not the best, Club President Lex Ames said.
The Bombshells, the women’s team, also play and practice at Owens Field.
The Rhinos will travel to cities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia to play matches within their region.