When Robin Woods started playing rugby her freshman year at Reed College, she remembers being such a geek that she had problems even receiving the ball in the scrum.
Then Woods tried her hand at "touch'' rugby, a faster and much less violent version of the sport, which was developed four decades ago in Australia as a warm-up for regular rugby.
Now entering her senior year at Reed, the 22-year-old Woods is captain of the college's "regular'' women's rugby team and the only female player on Portland's touch rugby team.
That squad just returned from a tournament in San Diego and is gearing up to host the touch rugby nationals Aug. 20 at Portland's Duniway Park (Southwest Sheridan Street and 6th Avenue).
Woods sat down with WW to talk about the appeal of playing a toned-down version of a sport renowned for banging heads, and how it helped her pregnancy with her now-21-month-old daughter, Phoenix.
WW: Why play a version of rugby where there's no tackling, scrumming or mauling. Isn't the point of rugby to do all that?
Robin Woods: There are a lot of people who don't like regular rugby. I like it a lot, but touch rugby helped me learn to see the field a lot better, to see how to create openings. A lot of the people who play are ex-rugby players. When I started playing, I couldn't catch a ball. Last year I was co-captain of Reed's rugby team, and this year I'm going to be the captain.
How did touch help you?
You need to be fast, and all these guys [on the touch squad] are faster than me, so that helps me in regular rugby. The difference you can really tell in your game is when it comes to your ball-handling skills.
Well, how would you rate your touch rugby game?
I'm better than the not-so serious players but somewhere at the bottom of the pile for the really good players.
Do you like one version better than the other?
The wonderful thing about touch rugby is it's so easy to learn, but to be good at it takes a long time. I do enjoy the people better in touch. They're much more laid-back and easygoing. In touch rugby, a fingernail on your shirt and you're down. I think it's probably best for most people to start out with touch rugby and get used to all the little things of the sport. And I was able to play it until I was seven months along with my daughter.
Did you tell your doctor that?
Yes. We also have physical therapists there, and I played until they told me not to. It totally helped me with my pregnancy. Healthwise, running is actually good for you.
So do you still like regular rugby?
Sure, because I like to hit people.
You seem like too nice a person to want to hit people.
In high school, my only sport was wrestling for a semester. I was this nerd and art geek. When you go to orientation at Reed College, it's this quirky and nerdy place, but the one sport they're proud of is women's rugby. So I was like, "I'll try rugby."
Weren't you scared?
I've never been scared of being tackled.
The only thing I know about rugby is that buddies who played it always talked about the great beer-drinking afterward.
That's definitely part of it. I always joke that 50 percent of it is the drinking. I didn't drink when I started, but it's all totally good-natured.
Isn't it weird being the only woman on the touch rugby team?
It is hard sometimes being the only girl. And when you are not the fastest person, it can be hard to feel competitive. Usually there aren't other women in touch, but when we went to San Diego every team had at least two, which was great.
Do you get ever that "she's only a girl'' look from your opponents?
I get underestimated all the time because I don't have this super- aggressive look and I'm not all that big. What I've found out is they can only underestimate you for so long.
Woods is an economics major at Reed She plans to get her Ph.D. in economics in California and at some point return to Reed to coach rugby.
To learn more about touch, see www.portlandtouchrugby.com