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In the scrum--Local rugy player off to Nationals

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By Mike Forster

There's an old saying in England along the lines that soccer is a gentleman's game played by ruffians while rugby is a ruffian's game played by gentlemen.

One of Bedford's gentlemen has taken to the game with a passion. Zac Bonheim is having a blast with the sport, which he jumped into upon his matriculation at the United States Coast Guard Academy.

Bonheim, a native of Forest and currently a sophomore at the Academy, was waylaid into playing the sport his freshman, or swab, summer. When on his way to join up for hockey, "one of the upperclassmen grabbed me and said, 'You're playing rugby'," recalled Bonheim.

As he was completely unfamiliar with the game, Bonheim started working on the basics. "You never really learn the game until you play it," he said.

Bonheim started out on the B team, steadily getting more familiar with the nuances of the sport. In this year's first round of the Northeastern regional, he scored his first try for the A team.

The sport combines the non-stop action of soccer with the intensity and hitting of football. Unlike football, ruggers don't have the benefit of wearing pads or helmets. Bonheim noted that the only protective equipment he wears is a mouthpiece.

The rules that govern the sport are fairly straight-forward. A team can score one of two ways. A "try" involves touching the ball to the ground over the opponent's goal line, and gets you five points. A "goal" involves kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the uprights for three points, just like in football. Points can also be earned for penalty kicks or points after tries.

The ball can only be passed backward, but it can be kicked forward.

It's commonly stated that soccer was a parent to rugby and rugby was the parent to football.

The fifteen man teams can start play with a scrum or a lineout. Both involve a lot of strength, quickness and footwork.

Like American football, rugby has the big guys up front. Bonheim is a back, playing the outside center position.

The backs are typically configured into a chevron formation. In addition to the outside center role, other backfield positions include scrum half, fly half, inside center, wing and fullback. Unlike American football, the fullback is one of the fastest players. All are expected to hit and to hit hard.

In spite of the perceived violent reputation of rugby, Bonheim is quick to point out that it really is a gentleman's sport. "Players on the field are not out to hurt one another," he said. "They're out to have a good game. Often, after games, both teams get together and have a cookout."

USCGA is developing into a rugby powerhouse, having won the Northeastern championship five straight times, earning a trip to the national championships in the process. This past fall, the team Bonheim's team beat Middlebury 39-22, to take the championship, in a contest held at West Point.

Bonheim feels that one of the reasons for the team's success is the conditioning that comes part and parcel of being a member of the Academy. Plus, with rigorous height/weight standards, all students have to be in shape whether they play rugby or not. "Other teams might be bigger, but we're still going when they're tired," he said.

The team will be heading to Albuquerque, NM, April 18-20 for the nationals.

With two years of eligibility, Bonheim still has a lot of playing ahead of him for the Academy. Upon graduation, Bonheim expects to play while he is on active duty, where he plans to specialize in law enforcement with the Coast Guard. "It's a sport you can play well into adulthood," he enthused.