The Jacksonville women’s rugby team has been rucking through Jacksonville for 11 years. The Sinners are focused on becoming an integral part of the community, while growing the sport by partnering with other rugby teams and supporting youth programs.
Rugby is unlike any other sport. There’s a place for every body type in the game, and each individual fitness level affects the whole team. Players have to know how to be both offensive and defensive and be able to switch between the two in a second. Plays change constantly, requiring players to stay alert and know how to strategize according to their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Two Sinners exemplify this. One, Miranda Barnard, who only started playing two years ago — four months after she’d had a baby. She won Rookie of the Year her first year, and is now Fundraising Chair for the Board of Directors. The other, Samantha Norman, started playing seven years ago and is now co-captain of the team.
Both are “backs,” which provide speed and agility to the team. Their main focus is to get the ball from the forwards and attempt to score. They have to be able to evade defenders, and also attack, run and kick. They defend their goal, and simultaneously push against the other side to score a try (goal).
Barnard plays both fullback and winger. As a fullback, she’s considered the last line of defense. She has to have confidence in handling the ball, tackling and be a good kicker. As a winger, she stays on the outside, waiting for her opportunity to get the ball and run down the field for a try. She’s fast and agile, discovering rugby after roller derby became “too soft” for her liking. “The passion, the fire, was immediate,” she said.
For her, mental training is just as important as physicality. She watches old field footage while she’s on the Stairmaster. Before a game, she imagines every situation and how she can compensate for her or her teammates’ weaknesses.
“If you don’t have a good left-hand pass, I’m going to come and meet you on the inside.”
Like many athletes who prep through various nutritional means, she has to eat food that’s going to burn quickly in order to stay fast for a long time. Because of this, she shies away from starches and carbs that she said will “weigh her down.”
Of course, the team partakes in a pasta dinner the night before the game. But Barnard is back to egg whites, bacon and fruit on game day. Her workouts mimic the timing of the game. She focuses on cardio, core work and footwork four days a week, and works out with the team twice a week. All the while, she’s imagining strategy.
Norman relies on her power. She plays inside and outside center, which focuses her strength on keeping the other side away from the wingers, who are trying to score. She has to handle the ball well and be able to see all her options and act accordingly. Sometimes, she plays “flyhalf,” and that’s when she calls the shots. In this position, she has to be elusive and agile, but also strong and able to take charge of the ball and send it where it needs to go.
For her, power is her greatest strength. Norman is a competitive powerlifter in addition to a rugger. With powerlifting being a weight class sport, she has to focus her diet on maintaining her weight. She focuses on meeting her caloric and protein requirements. “I don’t really want that much weight fluctuation unless I’m intentionally trying to cause it,” she said.
In addition to the twice a week team practices, she sets aside four days for lifting — two squat days, two bench and upper and one deadlift. But because rugby keeps you on your feet for 80 minutes or longer, she has to run long distance twice a week and sprints another three.
“I wish just lifting weights would get me aerobically fit enough to be able to play, but it doesn’t, so it pretty much forces me to run a few times a week,” she said.
These two players are only the beginning of the strength and support the Jacksonville Sinners have to offer. They’re trying their best to stay involved in the community, especially by supporting youth rugby programs in Jax. The Sinners are not-for-profit, operating purely out of passion. Their end goal is to put the Jax community on the map. Keep an eye out for them practicing at the Beaches. The only gear they need is a mouthguard, cleats and a ball — and let’s be honest, that’s pretty badass.