On August 7, 2015, Rob Haswell, co-founder of Louisiana State University Rugby Club and long-time rugby coach, returned to Baton Rouge, LA to visit his one time residence. He had the pleasure of gathering with old friends, colleagues, and current local rugby players. While gathered together at the old Les Bratton property, near Chelseas Cafe, Haswell took the stage and spoke at the party. Haswell discussed several subjects, much of it focused around the history of the LSU Rugby team. Within the reminiscing there were subtle tidbits of information that were reminders of what makes playing rugby one of the best decisions that a person could make.
1.) You may leave, but you’re never gone
Rob Haswell started the LSU Rugby program in 1968. Along with fellow co-founder, Jay McKenna, they were able to quickly piece together a rugby side that would create the pathway for a 40+ year history of rugby culture in Baton Rouge, that continues to grow to this day. Rob Haswell left Baton Rouge in 1974, when he and his family moved back to his home country of South Africa. How does this relate? Despite only returning to visit Baton Rouge handful of times, the warmth of the interaction that Haswell gives and receives is as if he never left.
If you didn’t watch the video, Rob Haswell greets the audience with appreciation for being back in Baton Rouge. But what is really noticeable is the reception from the LSU Rugby folk. The team battle cry, “Bulwayo” which means “place of slaughter”, is a tradition that was started under Haswell’s coaching tenure, and still remains a battle cry for the LSU Rugby Club to this day. An imprint of Haswell’s legacy.
Rugby is considered one of the more team oriented organized sports. What follows that is a rugby culture, that many would argue, is one of the most social sporting cultures. Within the rugby culture, players around the world are connected through a fraternal-like network that builds from common play. For most rugby players, the friendships that are built playing with their clubs can last a lifetime. People move around and people can play for many team, but no matter where you go, there’s no place like your rugby club. Your club can be your most welcoming place to return.
2.) Rugby can lead to unexpected rewards
It’s been mentioned that rugby has a superior social network. What does that mean outside of a few drinks and great play on the field? Haswell spoke on this while he was in Baton Rouge. In his early years, he was a Flyhalf at University of Witswatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was because of this that he created the most surprising connection. Check out the video to hear what he had to say:
Family is an important concept in rugby. For Rob Haswell, family has been a top priority for him. Rugby opened up the opportunity for him to meet his wife, Penny Haswell. That meeting would lead to a 51 year marriage, that would produce five wonderful children in, Bobby Haswell, Benji Haswell, Daniel Haswell, Nicky Haswell and Sarah Haswell NcPhail, as well as the adoption and fostering of many other children. Penny Haswell would go on to be the original rugby mother for the LSU Rugby Club. She didn’t limit her impact to just LSU. She would become a well-known fixture in South Africa as she regarded as a community leader and activist. She broke racial barriers in apartheid South Africa, fighting the system while opening the Lindiwe Educare Center that would educate both black and white children during the height of apartheid. Sadly, Penny Haswell passed away on October 2014 from ALS.
Rugby has a way of revealing the true nature in people. Whether it’s because of the nature of the sport, or because the culture is very accepting of societal abnormalities, it allows people to connect comfortably with each other. That same energy attracts and allows non-rugby people to open socially with rugby people.
3.) You never know the random connections that bring you to rugby
When Rob Haswell first came to LSU, he was simply supposed to be a Geology professor that was to teach a class. What ended up happening in his class would lead to the creation of the LSU Rugby Club.
Who would have thought that future Louisiana senator and Ku Klux Klan despot, David Duke, would be the reason the LSU Rugby Club came into existence? If you didn’t watch the video, David Duke had gathered the supremacist population at LSU to attend Haswell’s Geology class. Duke assumed that because Haswell was a white South African, during the height of Apartheid, he would help invigorate the supremacist base to press on with their agenda. Unfortunately for Duke, he soon found out that Haswell was radically against the apartheid system. Duke and his followers would stage mass walk out of Haswell’s class. Before that occurred, Duke’s announcement brought attention to the campus that a young South African was teaching at LSU. That attention allowed two young men to approach Haswell about coaching them on how to play rugby, and would lead to the formation of LSU Rugby.
Rugby has a way of calling you. There is no shortage of unusual stories on how people started playing. Whether they started playing from birth, or were randomly brought into it by a friend of a friend, everyone has their own unique reason that they entered the sport. There is no doubt that rugby is considered to be more than just a sport; it’s a way of life.
4.) Rugby can give you odd access
There is little doubt that the theme of this article has been based on the connections that rugby provides. Rewards from rugby can be received both on and off the field. The characteristics that are built when playing rugby can resonate in other walks of life. For Rob Haswell, it matriculated into other industries. After Haswell returned to South Africa, he entered into the world of politics. He would later become Mayor, Deputy Mayor and City Manager for the city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. A career that would span over 20 years, it led him to some interesting interactions.
Rob Haswell met several times with Nelson Mandela. What does any of this have to do with rugby? Haswell’s success in politics didn’t come from him playing the political game by the book, but instead came from the free-spirited character that was built on the pitch. According to Benji Haswell, respecting the field, quick decision-making and an aversion to risk, helped to build the career of his father. This would be the reason for Haswell being one of six members of parliament to leave the South African Democratic Party and joining the African National Congress, and action that would end up with interactions like his ones with Nelson Mandela.
Rugby reveals the character of the people who join. If used properly, rugby can build character and community relationships. The subtle lessons that are learned on the pitch can translate off the pitch. Many lessons crossover between different sports, but the combination of culture, pitch etiquette and freedom of personality give rugby a different characteristic output.
Correction #1: Article claims that David Duke was a Louisiana Senator. David Duke was elected to Louisiana House of Representatives. Duke lead unsuccessful campaigns to be elected as Governor of Louisiana and US Senator for Louisiana.