Rugby’s popularity is growing here
Under what circumstances could a bunch of Americans, Tongans, New Zealanders, South Africans and Irishmen co-exist in an enclosed space? On a rugby field, of course.
It’s a quirk of nature that even when seemingly incompatible nationalities are opposed in a rugby game, the protagonists are able to sit together in a pub afterwards and compare wounds and trade stories.
It’s this camaraderie which makes rugby a great sport, said Tahoe City rugby player and enthusiast Brenden Biggs, who plays for the Reno Zephyrs Rugby Club, based in Reno.
Because rugby is a little known sport in the U.S., not many Americans are aware of rugby, let alone the camaraderie among its players. But a small group of locals play rugby and are doing their best to see the sport grow in the area.
Why? Because, said Biggs, once people watch rugby they get hooked on the speed and excitement of the game. And the more people that get hooked, the more opportunities will become available to U.S. rugby players and teams. Rugby’s low profile, especially when it comes to funding, is the major barrier to the expansion of the game.
“We don’t have any facilities, like changing rooms, club rooms or fields,” said Biggs. “We have to share with other teams and rely on PUD-managed facilities.”
Facilities are so scarce that the Zephyrs have to travel to Monterey, Humbolt and Santa Rosa to get access to fields.
The Zephyrs play in the second division of the Northern California league, one of the strongest rugby leagues in the U.S., and have finished second in the championship for the last two years, said Biggs. Several players from the league are in the U.S. national team, the Eagles.
Biggs said that there are currently three players from the North Shore and two from the South Shore in the team.
Rugby recruitment in the U.S. works on a word-of-mouth basis. Biggs got his start in rugby four years ago when a work colleague finally coerced him into giving the game a go.
“It took me one game to fall in love with it,” Biggs remembered. Biggs had played football at high school and junior college in Sacramento, but said unless he intended going semi-professional or to the Canadian league, football was over for him.
“I tried to use my football skills in my first games but it just didn’t work,” he said. “Rugby is a whole different way of thinking.”
Biggs found the constant movement of rugby appealing.
“People get the impression that it’s a disorganized game, but there’s a reason for all that running around. There’s a definite game plan.”
Off the field, Biggs found rugby to be a family-oriented sport.
“After the game the families and players all go out to a pub and sit down. You don’t ignore your opponents, you socialize with them. With so many games played away from home, I take the whole family away with me for the weekend.”
The highlight of Bigg’s rugby career was a tour to England, Wales and Ireland last year, with the Fresno Rugby Club. The team played four games in 16 days and were billeted by the families of the teams they played.
“I never imagined I would tour internationally with a rugby team. Never.”
Biggs said the entire host townships came to the games, a totally new experience for the U.S. players.
Biggs doesn’t believe that American fans’ feelings towards traditional U.S. sports can compare to the way the Welsh and Irish fans feel about rugby.
“I might have said baseball many years ago, but not now. “The game is so important over there, especially in Wales. Rugby has such a rich history over there. Money has nothing to do with it. It’s a cultural, lifestyle thing.”
Back to the present, the Zephyrs’ are preparing for the 1999 season, which begins on Jan. 13.
Biggs said the team is looking forward to the addition of six University of Reno, Nevada players, and for the first time would be producing a program for the season.
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