Rugby is thought of, inaccurately, as a sport. Actually, it's a social event. According to the rulebook there are two halves of forty minutes each. But really there are three time divisions: those two halves of non-stop play, and then the party afterwards, at which everyone from every team, men and women rugby players gather to pound beers after they've pounded heads. Wait a minute. Women rugby players? The first men's rugby club tumbled into Baltimore some 17 years ago; today there are 28 men's clubs in the region. But it took until 1975 for the first area women's rugby club to form. Now there are a total of nine, six of which competed in the first Potomac region tournament last weekend, a two-day event sponsored and won by the Washington Women's Rugby Football Club. That club would like to get people to take women's rugby seriously. People like Mark Benning, secretary of Potomac Rugby Union, who says: "Rugby's not a women's game, the hardness of it is more a male-oriented sport. Females don't adapt to it as easily; men are more mentally aggressive. Not just in the tackling. Women can do that. It's in the scrum, men just make moves more aggressively in working the ball." "In our own way, women are as aggressive on the field as men," says Judy Tixier, president of WWRFC. "We give it our all." "Some men are mad we're playing rugby at all, let alone that we're playing it well," insists another woman player. "When this guy who played rugby asked 'Don't you mind getting hit?' I asked, 'Well, don't you mind getting hit?' It's no different. Some men like contact sports and so do some women." But rugby players don't particularly care what anyone thinks of her sport. We're talking about a craze of life. Rugby, football's younger sibling, born in early 19th-century England, has had problems growing up in America with such a popular brother. But rugby is brash and on the rise. The idea's the same as in football, to get the ball over the opponent's goal line by either kicking it or throwing it; but the rugby ball, slightly larger than the pigskin, cannot be thrown forward -- only laterally or backward. Each half goes on for 40 minutes straight, and play doesn't stop when the players (15 to a side) do: when someone is tackled the ball is tossed to another person to carry. The scrum, rugby's version of a huddle, appears to be vaguely purposeful chaos with everyone knitted together and pushing, the ball apparently floundering somewhere on the ground, seemingly the most intelligent one on the field as it's trying to get out of the whole mess. People who commit an American heresy and forget football long enough to learn rugby know it's much faster and rougher, with neither the rules nor padding -- equipment that ruggers insist cause so many football injuries. Kamikaze, whose real name was lost somewhere on the floor of the post-game party with the beer and crushed chips, said she and her fiance both "let" each other play rugby. "Sure it's a rough sport. But that used to be my nickname. I would hope no one plays the way I used to," proceeding to point out from head to toe to bones that had been broken, cartilage that had been torn, and various parts of her body that had been mashed in turn. "I just went into the game and didn't care at all about my body. Just tore into the games. I was a great player. I'm still a good player, but now I watch out a lot more." But enough about the hitting. The social life is what gets players every bit as enthusiastic. Rugby is one sport where you'll see kegs pulled up during games right next to the Ben-Gay for first-ai Pool). WOMEN'S RUGBY CLUBS WWRFC: contact Abigail Elias, 451-4632 or Judy Tixier, 941-4092. CHESAPEAKE WRFC: contact Susu Jordan, 301/243- 3179. UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND STINGERS: contact Pamela Baum, 301/649-4319, or Nancy Femiano, 301/572-4236.