Archives for February 2013

Beer, Loathing, & Rugby in Las Vegas – 2013

This is a work in process as I’m intending to follow the suggestion that I write this article  Hunter S. Thompson style and work in themes from his seminal work. I’m going to attempt that, but first I have to read the book.

Here goes just my own style – possibly to be later revamped into Mr. Thompson’s style.

Friday, Feb. 8th,  was a  chilly  and windy day that required a shot of Jameson’s to face the bright Vegas morning. As the day rolled on it just got colder. By the time the U.S. Eagles lost the final match of the day in a valiant effort against Samoa (12-7) the full bar concessions in the stadium couldn’t keep out the chill that made the leg of the kilted lass next to us look like a turkey neck.

Here comes the loathing part . The US Men  placed 8th which is their  best finish to date in this season’s  series, but they got beat by Canada, and so did the women – badly.

The U.S. Men squeaked  through their pool with a “time has run out”  brilliant conversion kick by Folau Niua. Niua’s  conversion in the 22-7 win over Spain gave the US the edge in a point differential decision that sent the men to battle Fiji in a Cup quarterfinal and then Australia in the battle to grab hold of the Bowl. In the Quarterfinal against Fiji  the Eagles were threatening the go ahead try with no time on the clock when Rocco Mauer reminded us that kicking is usually a bad idea and especially bad when time has run out and you are behind a try. The U.S. lost 19-21 to Fiji and were  sent to the Plate competition versus  the Maple Leafs who had lost to New Zealand 17-0 in their Quarterfinal. In the Plate Semi-Final Canada looked unstoppable when they  took  a lead right from the kick-off. Then  Zach Test and Carlin Isles brought some serious spirit and speed to the contest. The rest of the Eagles quickly embraced the spirit and made a game of it. The US going down by a try 24-19.

The focus of this column is the US team’s qualifying for the Olympics. The mindset of many of the athletes is based on a strong and deep desire to be an Olympic athlete. Last week in Houston the women seemed to show that not only were they definitely going to qualify, they were possible medalist. The Vegas  tournie had little to indicate the Lady Eagles won’t qualify. They are still consistently one of the 6 best teams in the world, and they should only need to be in the top 12 to get to Rio. There were strong indications though that if they do medal, it won’t be the gold – or the silver if Canada ends up standing next to Great Britain in Rio.

If men’s qualification requires one winner from the NACRA tournament, it probably won’t be the U.S. Chats around the pitch with well libated (possibly not a word) and shivering, but warm on the inside, compatriots and rugby fans from all over the world found general consensus  that the IOC & IRB will both agree that for $$ & development it is best if the US men have another route to qualification beyond  beating the Canadians – some sort of repechage play-off with  Tonga or Japan.

US problems range from poor tackling to failure to offload in a timely manner. The USA players, both men and women, need to study and practice how the Fijians fend-off stiff arms and the Fijian offloading ain’t so bad either. I include in the Fijians to watch the 5 who played for the New Zealand side that finished 2nd in the tournament Cup Final 40-21 to a very quick South African team.

The final in the women’s elite division of the match was a Canada A vs Canada B match-up. The USA women split into 2 fairly equal sides – The Stars and The Stripes. Canada split into an A-side and B-side. Canada’s B-side took out the Stars very easily 17-0 (official scores not up at time of article). This Maple Leaf B-side looked generally younger, like a new wave of Canadian rugby playing talent. The Stripes went down to the Canadian A-side that in the Cup Final waited til the last 4 minutes to bring on star players Mandy Marchak and Magali Harvey. They both scored and Canada A beat Canada B. When writing this article Day 2 and 3 scores scores weren’t on the LV Invitational website yet. Here is the link .

One last little thing before I go to the library to check  out a book, I’ve lived in a lot of countries and I can’t think of one where it wasn’t the protocol to stand silently when a national anthem was playing in the stadium. Occasionally gets press credentials and only once have I seen a member of the press sitting and chatting with his mate during a national anthem. He was an Argentine during a 2011 World Cup match. To tell you the truth, I’m not really offended,  just a little amazed when someone casually sits or strolls across a pitch when the entire stadium is silent and standing. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but the IRB should inform its match officials this is protocol.

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Jan. 26, 2013 – Kreb’s Field Dedicated in Birmingham

On January 26th, the Birmingham Rugby club, known as the Vulcans,l commemorated the official renaming of its home field at Erskine Ramsay Park in honor of Alfred E. “Eddie” Krebs. Eddie, who succumbed to cancer in 2012, was the youngest of the six Krebs brothers, who founded the club in 1967. The renaming of Krebs Field, officially approved by the Birmingham City Council, was observed with a ceremony at 11:30 on Saturday prior to the club’s season opening match. The ceremony was attended by Eddie’s brothers Chris, Mark, Van, Tom and Paul and other surviving family members and friends as well as City Councilwoman Valerie Abbott, Park and Recreation Board members, and current and former officers, coaches and players for the Vulcans.
Following the ceremony, Eddie’s legacy was celebrated with the Vulcans opening their spring season against the Chattanooga Rugby Club.

The following information was copied from the above article on the RugbyRugby website.

Info about Alfred Edward Krebs (Ed):

  • Ed was born in Birmingham, Alabama August 16, 1951.
  • After a brief battle with cancer, Ed passed away in Birmingham on July 28,      2012.
  • Ed and his brothers founded the Birmingham Rugby Club in 1967.
  • Ed’s playing days with Birmingham were much more and longer than any of the other Krebs brothers, playing virtually every position for 18 years.
  • Ed participated in the club in one form or another for all 47 years of its history. Those years he did not play he was involved with the team as an officer, supporter or active participant in the after match parties.
  • Ed used his engineering and construction background to support the field design and maintenance for regular matches and tournaments. He worked tirelessly to improve and upgrade the Rugby field. Many was the night he was found watering the grass or replacing lights.
  • Ed Krebs was the one who carried the Rugby club’s responsibilities to support the Birmingham community.
  • As Birmingham Rugby’s Recruitment Director and PR Director, Ed was blind to peoples’ ethnicities, color, and any other differences during a period when that could have created issues in Birmingham and the Deep South. Ed opened the door for Birmingham Rugby to be a racially barrier free community and ensured that it never closed.
  • Community Service: Ed contributed his time to several charitable organizations including the Salvation Army, YMCA events, and several theater groups. He especially enjoyed utilizing his culinary skills in preparing a low country boil for the Jimmie Hale Mission residents. He was often in attendance of various Arts association funraising events.
  • Ed received his BA from UAB where he was an active member of the theater arts and foreign affairs programs with the latter leading to various special assignments associated with the U.S. Government in the Middle East as a specialist in Arabic affairs.

Info about the club:
Early History:

  • Birmingham Rugby is one of the oldest continuous rugby clubs in the South. It was founded in 1967 by the Krebs Brothers. The six brothers are Chris, Ed, Mark, Tom, Paul, and Van.
  • The original name of the team was the Birmingham Parkers. The team was named after the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board because of the tremendous amount of support the board provided, along with      Mayor George Seibels.
  • One particular event that quickly raised popularity was the halftime entertainment of the August 8, 1970 exhibition match between the New York Jets (with Joe Namath) and Buffalo Bills (with OJ Simpson) at      Legion Field. The Birmingham Parkers and the Memphis Rugby Club      entertained the crowd of 55,000 with a hard hitting bloody battle. About that game Van Krebs wrote, “It is my remembrance that when we took the  field for an abbreviated match (10-13 minutes), the fans had no idea of      who we were and what the sport was. Approximately 20 minutes later, the fans were roaring and then booing the Pro players who were trying to take  the field. The pros had been out of the locker room long enough to watch us and that was when Emerson Boozer said to me “You guys really play that s#!+ for free?” The fans continue to cheer the rugby players and boo the pros. We had quite a few people join the club in the week to      follow.” Birmingham won that abbreviated match 5-0.
  • Early Accolades: Won the Duke University seven-a-side tournament three years in a row (1967 – 1969). Won every seven-a-side match for a three year period.
  • Former Football Stars: Some notable University of  Alabama and Auburn University football players to later play for Birmingham Rugby are Tom Somerville, Lou Green, and Wayne Owen. Countless others played college football before playing for Birmingham Rugby. In fact, Tom Krebs and Van Krebs both played football at the University of Virginia.

Recent History and Present:

  • Part of USA Rugby, which is explained below.
  • USA Rugby is an official member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Rugby Board (IRB).
  • There are over 450,000 players from 2588 teams registered with USA Rugby; including over 67,000 high school students.
  • The current structure of USA Rugby comprises seven      Territorial Unions (TU) and 34 Local Area Unions (LAU) that compete for      regional and National Championships.
  • Members: The Birmingham Rugby Club Foundation is a      501c3 organization with about 66 active members, including players, coaches, and administrators. Although retired players are not all  considered active members, many of them are still active in supporting the club. There are countless retired players and some are still involved in some capacity. No experience is necessary to join. The age range of players currently is 18 to 38, but we have had players participate in their 50s.
  • Women: The club had a women’s team from around 2000 until 2003 and we are hoping to recruit enough to form a women’s team again.
  • UAB: The club helped start a UAB team in 2011. That club currently has about 35 members. They play teams such as MTSU,  Alabama, JSU, Auburn, Lee University, Murray State, etc.
  • Competition: Birmingham competes against teams across the Southeastern United States and beyond. Frequent opponents include      Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Atlanta, Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery, Pensacola, Panama City, Columbus, Ga, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, …
  • Accolades: As far as recent history, Birmingham is the reigning state champion after winning back to back championships in 2011 and 2012. Birmingham also made it to the USA Rugby South playoffs in 1999,      2000, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2000 Birmingham advanced all the way to the USA South Finals and in 2012 the USA South Final 4.
  • Community Service: Birmingham Rugby is proud to give back to the community by regularly teaming up with organizations such a the Exchange Club Family Skills Center and by raising money for charities      including United Cerebral Palsy and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for fighting childhood cancer.
  • Youth: 2013 will be the fourth year of Youth Flag Rugby and the second year of High School Rugby in Birmingham. Currently there are not enough High School players to compete as one school vs. another. One of our biggest goals for the near future is to grow the popularity of  High School Rugby to a level that allows for an interschool league in the      Birmingham area and beyond.

Feb. 2013 – Houston 7s and the USA Women’s Quest for a Seat at the Olympic Table

The USA Women squeaked through in first place in pool B because their point differential after  pool matches with Canada, South Africa, and Argentina was 44 points and Canada’s was 41. The USA and Canada tied (12 all) in their match and both sides beat South Africa and Argentina. That 3 point difference meant the USA went into Day 2 facing Russia in their opening cup quarterfinal match and Canada had to face the Dubai women’s series champs, New Zealand. New Zealand finished second in Pool A, losing by a conversion to England (7-5). Australia finished first in pool C by defeating the fast, hard hitting Russian side by a try (15-10).

The current Olympic/IRB thinking on who will get to compete in 7s at the Olympics in 2016 will call for the USA to beat Canada in a NACRA  tournament in 2015 or early 2016 to qualify for a trip to Rio. The plan that has been floating between the IRB and IOC is currently specific only  for the men’s qualification. The women’s qualification path could be different, but if the current men’s model is accepted for the women, Day 1 play in Houston indicates that it is still a  coin toss who would win a USA-Canada match and could depend on factors related to where the tournament is played. The faces of the Canadian and USA women as they left the match after their draw tells a bit of the mindset of the sides. The Canadians looked sad and disappointed.  The USA women seemed elated. The USA players feel they are improving and gaining on the Canadians and the Canadians fear they are not improving as quickly as the USA.

The Canada match started out badly for the USA. High, uncommitted, arm tackling led to an early Canadian try. A second Canadian try came from 2 US players being sucked in to cover one  Canadian attacker and knocking each other over. Then two US players (Kelly Griffin and Nathalie Marchino) really stepped up and changed  the momentum to pull the sides even by the time the buzzer sounded the end of the match. Kelly and Nathalie were outstanding all day. Team captain (Vanesha McGee) upped her effect  on play in the USA’s second match against South Africa, scoring 2 tries and leading the side to a 22-19 victory. Deven Owsiany joined the starting line-up in the South Africa match and was, at times, an inspirational force in defense. Who would win the USA’s final pool match against new comer to women’s international 7s (Argentina)  was never in question. The USA ran in 7 tries to Argentina’s 0. The lady pumas were unable to score a try in all 3 of their pool matches.

Day 2 was another glorious day weatherwise and rugbywise in Houston. There were reports of ticket sales approaching 4,000, but a quick visual estimate of attendance indicated the crowd was less than 2000. In conversation with Susan Carty, IRB Women’s Development Manager, she stated attendance was not disappointing as the IRB expected this venue and location would take time to grow.

The scores for Day 2 matches can be found on the IRB women’s 7s series website, so I won’t list them all here, but focus on highlights of USA & Canada matches.

Canada fell in the quarterfinals to New Zealand (12-10) in a match that started with palpable intensity. Canada’s  Jennifer Kish charged down their opening kick-off to the Kiwis, evaded and broke several tackles before offloading to Kayla Moleschi to put Canada up by 5 with less than 30 seconds gone.  New Zealand would score 2 tries and convert one before Canada put together a multi-phase movement that ended in Moleschi going over for another try to pull Canada within 2 points. With 2 minutes left New Zealand almost scored again but a great tackle by Magali Harvey kept Canada’s hopes alive, but Canada’s fight had been draining. With a minute to go a bad choice by Canada to try to break through a line-out rather than pass the ball out led to a knock-on and time ran out on a courageous Canadian effort. The New Zealand effort seemed to dampen Canada’s fire. They lost to Netherlands in the plate semi-final, but came roaring back in the battle for 7th place to leave a South African side severely burned in  33-0 defeat.

It was over 4 minutes into the first half before Russia scored the first try in their quarterfinal match with the USA. Weak tackling allowed the Russian phenomenon Baizat Khamidova to get the first points with Nadezda Yarmotskaya adding the conversion. With less than a minute in the first half, Lauren Doyle  outpaced the Russian defense  to put the score at 7-5 going into half. The second half saw Nathalie Marchino adding 2 tries and the Russians being held scoreless for a final score of 15-7. Nathalie’s final try was an 80 meter break which she touched down between the post.

Victoria Folayan was the USA hero in their semi-final match with Australia, scoring two of the USA’s 3 tries. The third try came from Christy Ringgenberg scoring from an intercepted Aussie pass and her conversion put the match out of reach at 17-5 with time running out.

England had battled through the Netherlands (19-14) and New Zealand (19-12) to earn their place in the the cup final against the USA. England jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead as US tackling and coverage was lacking in commitment. Five minutes into the first half the Kelly Griffin-Nathalie Marchino dynamic duo went to work, Each scored a try and the US was up 12-10 before England scored a try to put them up 15-12 as the buzzer went for half. The USA seemed to come out for the second half a different team. England’s Joanne Watmore scored from the kick-off. The Eagles spent most of the half in what seemed a lethargic defense.  The exertions of the tournament had taken their toll and the effects were clear in the women’s handling, tackling, and coverage. Watmore added another converted try and when the match ended England were the champions (29-12) of the first Houston International Women’s 7s.

In a post match interview with USA players Jillion Potter, Kimber Rozier, & Lauren Doyle they expressed disappointment at the final result,  but happy to have made it to the final and very happy at the improvement since Dubai. The general mood of the USA team seemed to be one of elations that they are moving in the right direction and getting there at a faster pace than the other nations. It is hard to imagine the competitors in Rio in 2016 will be very different. For now the women seem on track to bring home a medal.