DELICATE French patisseriecakes, iced tea, cold Stella Artois and arelaxed, friendly atmosphere are not theimages that spring to mind at the mentionof rugby.Rain, muddy pitches and broken nosesare more like it, but rugby matches organizedby Frenchmen and a strong contingentof Latinos add a certain je ne sais quoito the game.France’s love affair with the game iscommon knowledge and, last year, severalkeen players living in Costa Rica organizeda match on grounds belonging to theFrench Embassy. The sport was fairlyunknown in Costa Rica but its internationalsuccess has sparked Tico curiosity, andthe game is growing in popularity.Around 60 members make up the CostaRican National Rugby Association. Thereare four teams: France, Argentina, CostaRica and a motley “United Nations” crewfrom countries including Canada, Peru,Ireland and Belgium.“We are very proud of what we haveachieved,” said Joseph Armesto, presidentof the association. And so they should be.They are an ambitious team seeking tobecome a federation, which would allowthem to be a part of the World RugbyUnion. In January they have their firstinternational match against Mexico, andpossibly with Panama.FOR the uninitiated, the basic gameinvolves 15 players, although seven-a-sidetournaments are popular and played inCosta Rica. The object of the game is toscore as many points as possible by carrying,passing, kicking and grounding anoval ball in the scoring zone at the far endof the field.Grounding the ball results in a try, afterwhich a conversion may be attempted by aplace kick or drop kick. The ball may notbe passed forward (though it may bekicked forward), and players may not betackled without the ball.Infringements result in a penalty, freekick or scrum. In a scrum, the opposingforwards bind together in a unit and pushagainst the other forwards, trying to winthe ball with their feet.Substitutions are only allowed in theevent of injury, and there are no separateoffensive and defensive units.IN Latin America, European influencehas meant the game is commonly playedby Argentineans, but the players bemoanthe fact that the game is not played inschools in Costa Rica.“The game wouldbe more widely playedif kids learned rugby ata young age,” said JohnFaley, an Irishmanplaying for the U.N.team.However, they arevery optimistic. “Thisis just the beginning,”said Thibault Landier, aplayer for the Frenchteam. “We intend tomake rugby a well-knownsport in CostaRica.”Practice is held inthe rugby field of theFranco-Costa Rican School, inConcepción de Tres Ríos, at 10 a.m.every Sunday. For more information,visit the association’s Web site atwww.rugbycostarica.com.