A shore thing for fitness

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am


Tall and willowy, Nicola Sawyer looks as if she could audition for a role in Black Swan, but today she's at Repulse Bay ready to attempt a sport infamous for its take-no-prisoners play: rugby.

But there is a twist - the game is taking place on a smaller pitch, about one-twelfth the size of a standard rugby pitch. There is no goal post. Rope, instead of paint, marks the boundaries of the 30-metre by 20-metre playing area. And rather than grass, the surface is sand, which adds a challenge to an already vigorous game.

Even though the halves are only five minutes long, just 30 seconds of sprinting on sand can send heart rates soaring. In fact, a study by Belgian researchers published in The Journal of Experimental Biology found that running on sand burns about 60 per cent more calories than running on a firm surface.

'It's short but intense, both mentally and physically,' says Sawyer, 25, an events manager. Coming from one of the top scorers in the Hong Kong Hockey Association premier women's league, this means beach rugby must be a great workout.

Her foray into this game resulted from the AirAsia Beach 5s Hong Kong, which was held over a weekend in March and featured more than 40 men's and women's teams - many made up of non-rugby players. Although it was beach rugby's debut here, the game is gaining popularity worldwide. Major events are held in France, Italy and the United States. But there is no international ruling body for the sport - yet.

So, with summer upon us, gather some friends (it's five-a-side), get a rugby ball (or perhaps four), find a beach and play. There are simple rules to follow, such as no kicking, no passing forward, tackle only the player with the ball, only tackle below the chest. One point is awarded for each try.

Fitness isn't usually an issue for Sawyer, but the first day of play left her shoulders, arms and upper body aching. 'It's the constant grabbing and pulling that I'm not used to,' she says. Skills with a hockey stick don't quite translate to ball handling - and they sure don't prep you for the full body contact that makes rugby so exciting to watch and play.

Expect scratches, scrapes and possibly bruises, says James Beacher, 23, who works in events management and plays club football. 'If you get tackled, it's like hitting sandpaper.'

Speed, agility and aggressiveness definitely help, but size is not everything, according to Alex Brazendale, 33, the tournament director of the Beach 5s. It is all about positioning and the angle of attack. 'Some of the players are big lads who thump their way across the pitch,' he says.

'But the smaller, nimbler players are also important.'

A combination of cardio, interval and circuit training, suggests Sawyer, would be ideal for anyone hoping to get into shape to take up the sport. It's a great workout, she adds, but it's also great fun, even for non-rugby types. 'I never saw myself as a rugby player, but you could be a non-rugby person and not be out of your depth.'

The Beach 5s was meant to be a one-off tournament, but plans are already in the works for next year's event. If you are thinking of picking up the sport and getting involved, the website, www.hkbeach5s.com, has a Facebook link.

Brazendale reckons it would be easy to match up with other players interested in a game there.