There’s a new pro team joining the Chicago sports landscape this year: the Chicago Hounds.

They are the newest members of Major League Rugby and kicked off their inaugural season in February, just three months after the team was founded.

“We try to embody that of a Hound and that of a Chicagoan,” said head coach Sam Harris. “Big shoulders, resilience, blue collar and working hard, whatever is thrown at us we are up for the challenge. That’s what fans can expect.”

Harris never set foot in the City of Broad Shoulders until tapped to take over the expansion franchise after two seasons leading Austin. But the former pro rugby player from Australia has immersed himself in Chicago sports history.

“I’ve taken a deep dive in the ‘85 Bears, I’ve been a huge 90’s Bulls fan. I wore all my video tapes out as a kid, and wanted to be NBA player growing up,” he said.

Harris hopes the Hounds can become part of the city’s sports fabric, in a game more renowned globally than in the States.

“To gain traction in America we need to follow the MLS model,” Harris said, comparing it to Major League Soccer. We are in year six, they are year 30. Stay patient, build one supporter at a time. Once they are exposed to rugby, they love it. Not as many stoppages, it’s free flowing.”

Rugby dates back 200 years, with many elements of more modern sports in its gameplay. 

“You get the physicality of football and fast pace of basketball,” said Timmy Ohlwein, a Hounds player who graduated from Lakes High School. “[The game] doesn’t stop, and it’s so much fun.”

“The biggest thing for rugby is the culture is different, it’s not about the individual it’s all about team sport,” said Paddy Ryan, who grew up in Park Ridge and also serves as the rugby coach at New Trier High School. “We don’t celebrate after a win; we have a beer with the other team after a game.”

Eight forwards and seven backs man the football-field sized pitch. You can only pass the ball backward or sideways as players run or push their way forward to score a try –worth 5 points – or attempt a field goal or drop kick worth 3 points.

But as the Hounds bring the sport to town on a pro level, they don’t care if fans understand a Ruck from a Scrum just yet.

“As a rugby novice coming to a game, don’t worry about understanding all the rules,” Harris said. “Learn it organically and come for the contact.”