The Dallas Jackals provided me two free tickets and parking passes to a recent game. Although I'm not a hardcore sports fan, and I'd never watched a rugby game before, I'm always a fan of the home team, I love learning new things, and I'm known for finding fun things to do. Here's what I learned about the newest home team in Dallas.
With both the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks teams earning playoff spots this year, you may think that's all the sports excitement you can handle. But if you're hungry for more, there's a new team in town, and giving them your support while learning about a new-to-you sport could very well feel like a win.
The Dallas Jackals are the area's first Major League Rugby team, and they're also the newest team in the league. With three games left in their inaugural season, there's still time to become a rugby fan and cheer on the Jackals. When I attended a game, I discovered seven reasons why you'll want to.
They're the Newest Home Team in Dallas
It's always fun to be in on the beginning of a trend, and professional rugby just might be a fun new trend in sports. Although the sport has been played since 1823 and is played in over a hundred countries around the world as noted by World Rugby, the popularity of the sport in the U.S. is just starting to take off.
The club Major League Rugby was founded in 2017 and has 13 teams--12 in the U.S. and one in Canada. Three of those teams call Texas home, with the Austin Gilgronis, the Houston SaberCats, and as of this year, the Dallas Jackals.
Scott Sonju, the founding president of the Jackals is no stranger to Dallas or to professional sports franchises. His father Norm was the founding president of the Dallas Mavericks over 40 years ago. Team owners Donnie Nelson and the Neil Leibman Investment Group have assembled a team of players from nine different countries, many of whom played college rugby or on professional teams, or represented other teams in this league before heading to Dallas.
Rugby is Exciting to Watch
Rugby is a complex game, and there's a whole new vocabulary to learn, not to mention plays like you've never seen in any other sport. That's the best part of supporting a new team--you can learn about the game as the team grows and develops.
The game is a little bit like football and a little bit like soccer, but also very different from both. With 30 players on the field (15 from each team) at any given time, there's plenty of action to watch. Some of it's easy to follow. In rugby, teams attempt to score a "try" which is much like a touchdown in football, and even newbies will know when that's about to happen. But unlike in football, there are no downs, and the clock rarely stops, so the action is nearly continuous. In two 40-minute halfs, a player can run an average of four miles per game.
I found that line-outs (pictured above) are particularly fun to watch as teams sometimes lift players into the air to command control of the ball. Scrums (pictured below) restart the game after minor infringements, and even the most reluctant sports fan will be watching eagerly to see which team comes out of the pile in possession of the ball.
For a deeper dive into how the game is played and a history of the sport, visit the Dallas Jackals website and check out the Rugby 101 video and guide to the game.
The Jackals' Home Arena is Choctaw Stadium
The beautiful Choctaw Stadium, formerly The Ballpark in Arlington is an attractive destination for rugby fans. Available seats are situated for the best viewing, and concessions are available to make your game-watching experience complete.
Kids of All Ages Will Love Jax the Jackal
Every team needs a mascot, and Jax the Jackal is out and about before, during and after the game to meet and greet rugby fans. Look for other photo opportunities and activations at home games--you may even get a chance to pass the ball.
The Players Are from All Around the World and They're Very Social
Getting to know the players of a team is part of the fun of being a fan, and this team is full of personalities. One player is a law school graduate, another is a chiropractor, and yet another is a video game aficionado who loves to broadcast on Twitch. Jackals players hail from nine different countries and speak a variety of languages, but for now, they call Dallas home.
Although the group is stocked with talented players, the team has yet to win a game. And while experts of the game might (or might not) disagree, I expect that's fairly normal for a brand new team, especially one that's faced some challenges with injuries and more in their starting season. To me, this didn't detract from the excitement of the game, and there's a little bit of pride that comes from backing a team from the beginning, win or lose. Get to know and love the players now, and you'll already be a top fan once the team really comes together. And wouldn't it be fun to be in the stands for their first win?
Rugby is Great for Women Who Love Sports
Though rugby is a rough-and-tumble sport, there are women's leagues with outstanding players and leaders. One of them made her way to Dallas as the Jackals' Head Coach, and this is not her first ballgame. Elaine Vassie, former head coach of English National League Club, Manchester FC (starting in 2009), was the first female to ever hold a Head Coach or Director of Rugby position in that league.
After coaching teams in Scotland (where she's from), the UK, and Italy, she first came to Texas as a member of the Texas Select Side coaching staff for the 2014-2015 season. She later worked as Head Coach for the Dallas Harlequins Rugby Football Club, which is now an official affiliate of the Dallas Jackals. With the entry of the Jackals team into Major League Rugby, Vassie leads the team as head coach and general manager.
It's very likely that Vassie won't be the only female on the pitch (which is what rugby players call the field.) There's at least one female referee in this league, even though players are required by the rules of the game to address her (and any other official) as "sir."
There Are Three Home Games Left This Season
Although their first season is almost over, you have three more opportunities to cheer on the Jackals at their home stadium.
- 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30
- 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21
- 7 p.m. Saturday, June 4
Single game tickets start at $20 and are available to purchase from the Dallas Jackals official website.
Whether you're looking for new things to do with your family or friends or a sporting experience that will have new fans and rugby experts alike cheering, this is one bandwagon you won't regret jumping on early.