The Bohemian Rugby Football Club members, 27 strong from Limerick, Ireland, opened Washington training the other night at Kelly's Irish Times saloon.

Wearing their green sweaters with the club insignia over their hearts, they all looked a bit older than when they won the Club Championship of Ireland back in 1953.

Some were gray-haired, some bald -- but they looked fit for the sport. They had come to America to tour a bit and play their game, including a match last night with the Washington Rugby Club.

They looked like rugby veterans. In some cases, their handsome faces had been rearranged slightly from the physical contact of the sport. A nose, slightly bent. A scar. A false tooth replacing the original.

Who cared? For men past 40, once-broken bones ache only on rainy mornings.

"It's better to be a has-been than a never-was-er" was the way Billy Murphy, a professional photographer and a tough-faced guy, summed it up. "If we win the game it's good, but we only play to play the game. We have no desire to get hurt nor hurt anyone else."

Team manager Pat Moran, sipping a bottle of Guinness, told all who would listen, "I am the Guinness manager back in Limerick . . . We came into New York last Friday and played a match. I think we won.

"It's necessary to have money to play the game the way we do; it's a great social game. It's after the match when you have to have $29 for grub and $350 for booze."

An accountant from Nehagh, a Tipperary town near Limerick, Moran said he played "prop stroke forward on the front line," not brothering to explain the position further, except that "You have to be able to drink three days solid."

The beer flowed fast along the bar and many bits of conversation centered on the same subject.

"We drank everything on the plane -- gin, whiskey and beer. They ended up giving us the small bottles of champagne . . . . "

"Everywhere we go they run out of everything to drink even on the train coming down from New York . . . ."

Trdhg Rafferty, 6 feet 4, 240 pounds, a farmer in Tipperary, said he owned five horses -- and he looked strong enough to carry them one at a time to pasture.

"I played second row," he said. "They call us the donkeys; we take all the toughness in the front."

Dick Poulson, an attorney and president of the Washington Rugby Club, came by to sip a beer and offer a friendly hello to the Irish Team.

Then , last evening, the visitors and the locals got together at the Kenilworth Park and Recreation Center in Anacostia.

It was a freezing night at the wide-open park and Billy Murphy wearing Number 1, sweated pure beer after an evening's tour of Georgetown's bars with Hugh Kelly.

There was a quiet sophistication in their mayhem as they played to a 0-0 tie.

Irish rugby players are lovely and tender in speech, and tough as hell. These return to Limerick tomorrow morning along with their bruises and healing bones, back to whatever they do from Mondays to Fridays, leaving the weekends open to combat.

They met after the game last night at Fricky's to drink a keg of beer and hug the men they banged against all evening.