2007-2008 Articles

Robert Markel, A Grandfather of Deep South Rugby

          What makes someone a grandfather of an entity as large and with so many roots as Deep South Rugby? In the most common usage of the word it means a parent of parents. This might relate in rugby to a player who has inspired players who have gone on to inspire other players. If this definition is valid then Robert Markel is certainly a Deep South Rugby grandfather many times over. Robert was a founder of Spring Hill, Jackson, Xavier University, Jesuit, and various touch, under-19, and 7’s sides. The number of Deep South ruggers who began playing because those sides existed is difficult to calculate. Many of these ruggers have gone on to roles of leadership off and on pitches at clubs throughout the Deep South and other unions. There is a strong argument that Robert is a very prolific grandparent.

            In the spring of 1968 at the age of 17 he played his first game as center with the New Orleans Blues against Southeastern Louisiana. The Blues had 3 games that season, all against Southeastern. In the fall Robert started university at Springhill College and soon had a team organized. In the spring of 1969 Springhill had its first matches against Tulane, New Orleans Blues (first victory), Pensacola, and Southeastern Louisiana. The following year Springhill played the University of Florida in their first rugby match. In the summer of 1974 Robert moved to Jackson where he saw a flyer put up by Frank Godwin asking if anyone was interested in starting a rugby side. Frank and Robert began running, passing the ball, and gathering players. Jackson’s first match was against Lamar College from Beaumont at the Hammond Mardi Gras Tournament in 1975. In the late 70s Robert moved to New Orleans and began many years involvement with the NORFC as a player and in various positions of leadership. Today he coaches Jesuit High School (which went to the high school national sweet 16 tournament in Utah in 2006), plays in the occasional Old Boys match, and is looking forward to a December trip to his favorite rugby tour destination – the Trinidad 7s tournament.

            Probably before birth Robert and Diane’s sons, Justin and Gabriel, were exposed to rugby and from very early ages they were toddling around with rugby balls. At the age of 1 Justin was on rugby tour to the Cayman Islands. Youth touch rugby had its beginning in New Orleans with the birth of Justin and as Justin and Gabriel grew so did the successes of the sides. The New Orleans youth touch rugby side went to the Junior Olympic Rugby Tournament twice and when Gabriel was in 7th grade the side took second place at the tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. These touch sides evolved into the U-19 Smiley Faced Warriors. It must be mentioned at this point that Robert’s jersey design flair began to reach new heights with the Smiley Faced Warriors’ kits. The Smiley Faced Warriors played their first match against Catholic High in Baton Rouge in 1996. The Smiley Faced Warriors 70-0 victory over a prep school from White Plains, New York, is one of Robert’s many cherished coaching memories. He, also, fondly recalls playing alongside outstanding local back Jeff Reuther, who started out playing on a high school side coached by Robert and went on to play for the NORFC, Texas A&M, and Atlantis select side.

            When asked about his favorite memories from 4 decades of rugby, the players and places and matches and moments just come tumbling out. His body remembers playing in the mud in Hammond or a match in New Orleans where the rain soaked pitch froze over and the ice crunched underneath his boots. His heart recalls singing “Rosin the Bow” with Richard Evans, prop for the NORFC in the 70s, at Spilfters & Smulchkins Ruggers Pub after a magnificent day of rugby on the batcher. In a tournament in Memphis in 1992 his 15 year-old son, Justin, played in his first adult match. Justin’s first try came on a pass from his father. Justin went on to be a collegiate all-American and to play for Atlantis. Robert’s neck and shoulders recall a match as prop for the NORFC in 1982 against John O’Connor, prop for an Irish side from Belfast, at the Freeport Bahamas Easter Tournament. His love of rugby recalls the birth of the concept of “Cosmic Buzz Saw Rugby” in Shreveport in the early 80’s. New Orleans drove up on Saturday to find a supposedly excellent Shreveport side impatient with the late arriving NORFC ruggers. Straight from cars to the pitch and the magic of playing in a match where all players are in tune, off-loads are quick and flawless, and movements seem to glide almost effortlessly to the eventual try still inspires Robert. The memories of the match flow in detail from the first tackle by Charlie Monnot that brought down 2 Shreveport players to the party that led to an overnight drive to Jackson and spending the night on the Jackson pitch – assuring arrival in plenty of time for the Sunday match.

            Favorite match and tour memories, from the 800 or so matches Robert calculates he has played, are endless. He recalls scoring a hat trick for the NORFC in 1979 against an excellent Canadian team, Vancouver Rowing Club. He was playing center outside Ed Murray who went on to be rookie of the year for the Detroit Lions and the Super Bowl MVP award winner while playing for Dallas. He recollects beating a very good Oklahoma side while playing in the pack alongside Wayne Fontenelle and Al D’Elia and winning the Battleship Tournament in 1980. Recalling the 80s and 90s he warms with thoughts of summer 7s on Tuesdays and Thursdays, touch on Wednesdays, and the end of summer luau at his or Tracy Moen’s house. Stories of characters and matches and dinners with the numerous international players from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and France (many of whom picked up traveling money working for Markel Lumber) afford an amazing window into the impact this ambassador of Deep South rugby has had.

            In December, 1990, along with former NORFC teammates Fran Thompson and Tom Crosby, he made his first trip to the Trinidad 7s as a member of the Caracas Teachers RFC. That initial trip has led to 5 more trips to the tournament. Over the last 18 years he has played with many teams in this tournament. Favorite memories include 1998 when he played his first match with both sons and gave Gabriel a pass that put him over for his first try, in 1999 the NO Womens RFC finished 2nd and the men went out in the semi-final, and in 2000 at the age of 50 he played a total of 9 matches for NORFC 2nd side and the Barbados Defense RFC during the weekend of the tournament. Robert established such a strong link between himself and the Trinidad 7s organizers that following Katrina, Brian Stohlmeyer ( Trinidad 7s Organizer) contacted him to offer his family a place to stay in Trinidad. He is now planning his December return to Trinidad to renew old acquaintances and make new friends and memories.

            In his 40 years of involvement with rugby in the Deep South Robert Markel has set a standard by which to measure what it means to be a grandfather of Deep South Rugby, and on October 23rd, 2007, the grandfather became a grandfather. His oldest daughter Bonnie gave birth to Eliza Rose Mead. One can certainly imagine that Robert dreams of the day when he gives Eliza the pass that puts her over for her first try in Trinidad.

French Quarter Festival Masters Rugby Tournament

FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL MASTERS RUGBY TOURNAMENT

NEW ORLEANS

I’m sitting here with my hamstring screaming, reflecting on the 2008 First Annual French Quarter Festival Masters Rugby Tournament and wondering 2 things – why the hell did I play and who won?

On Friday, April 11th, at the fields in Gretna a combined New Orleans/Baton Rouge RFC Masters side rumbled over the Texas XXXs in the opening match. Watching some of the legends of local rugby (Bob Causey, Gary Giepert, Tim Falcon, Sammy Fornet) scamper around the pitch was inspiring. The ever-youthful Billy Gooddell (Somebody needs to follow him to where he’s hiding the fountain of youth.) between playing matches with the NO/BR side and the Memphis/Nashville/Tennessee side was arranging an over-50 match for Saturday at noon. While the Tennessee side battled the Morristown/South Jersey lads, I caught up with old NORFC teammate Gene Gerdes. I had heard that Gene had suffered a stroke and found out this was true. But at 60 years of age and with a warning from a doctor that cerebral bleeding from his stroke put him at severe risk if he had a head accident, Gene was keen to strap on his boots and feel that exquisite pleasure of involvement in a match of rugby. The last match of the day saw The Blacksmiths defeat the NO/BR side. I headed over the bridge to meet my wife for a bike ride to French Quarter Fest with a weirdly wonderful feeling of knowing you truly exist and have had a good life because of this network of rugby.

Saturday, I picked Fran Thompson up at 8:30 a.m. to get to the pitch for the 9 a.m. Mobile v Morristown. On the cloudy but gorgeous drive over the swollen Mississippi River, Fran gave me the key to an old boys successful play in a Master match – keep your head bobbing as if you are running, no matter how slow you’re going. Mobile’s defeat of the Jersey lads ended dramatically with a snap and a cry from a Mobile player for everyone to stop. A Jersey player’s leg was broken. While the Blacksmiths bettered the Texas XXX in the second match, Fran and I philosophized with Baton Rouge Old Boys Gary Myers, Mark Lawson, and “Big Red” Causey about the pleasantly strange relationships between players and fans from different teams in rugby. At a loss for the perfect description without resulting to the clichés of camaraderie or a rugby brother/sisterhood we fumbled with comparisons with the angry hostility that exists between fans of professional football or soccer teams. Examples were given of being cursed while wearing a Dallas jersey in Philadelphia. As we know, if you were to wear a rugby jersey for a certain club in another club’s city, the questions would be welcoming and about who you know. As the next match (Mobile v Tennessee) started, Billy runs up and says there will be no over-50 match, so if I we want to play get ready to go in at half.

I’m feeling pretty good. I see Gene getting his kit on. I jog to the car and put on my boots and trot over to the side of the pitch to stretch and watch the hard charging Mobile boys, pound through the Tennessee side. The half ends. For the past several years I have had a personal rule that I don’t play for any side that cares if they win. I figure it is not fair to that side or me as I am no longer willing to make the physical sacrifice to win a game of rugby. Looking at the Tennessee fellows and the over-50 bunch that was volunteering to fill in their ranks, I figured I didn’t need to poll the team if they wanted to win when they asked if anyone wanted to play fullback. The Mobile onslaught continued until my hamstring popped as a back who had me well out paced cut back inside. I forgot to keep my head bobbing.

Why did I play? Was it for that boyhood/young man feeling of youth and healthy enjoyment of a good game? Was it by still playing to feel to wonderful rugby experiences past? As I hobble around the house, my sweet Carolyn (who is in some ways delighted that her prophesy that I would get injured has come true) is extracting promises that I will never play again while making me far more comfortable than I deserve to be. The recovery period from a pulled hamstring I know only too well. As I look forward to shuffling around for the next few weeks, I think how lucky I am to not be the fellow with the broken leg. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why I played. I’m expanding my rule to include not playing in matches where either team cares if they win.

The ceremony to award the trophy to the tournament champion was held on the side of the pitch before the New Orleans RFC division II regional championship match against Atlanta Renegades. I was medicating myself on the bleachers while the award ceremony took place. I heard second hand that Morristown were the crowned the tournament winners. Criteria for deciding the champion were in the areas of how far they traveled and performance on and off the pitch. A simplified criterion was which team had the most fun. There are, I believe, a few disputes over who had the most fun. I heard the Texas XXXs had so much fun before they left Texas they declared on their website they had won the championship before the tournament ever licked off. As every one was heading off Saturday afternoon to the French Quarter to enjoy the fantastic music, food, and ambiance of the free French Quarter Festival, there was still a lot of fun to be had.

The 2nd Annual French Quarter Festival will be held Friday, April 10th, and Saturday, April 11th, 2009. For more information contact Tim Falcon at 504.884.5471.

A goal of deepsouthrugby.net is to create a historical record of rugby in the region. If you attended the tournament and would like to be listed send your name, club affiliation, and comments to deepsouthrugby@ hotmail.com.

40th Anniversary of SLU Rugby

By Brandon Vicknair

40th Anniversary of SLU Rugby

The Lion’s Rugby Football Club celebrated its 40th anniversary on in Hammond. Established in 1967 by the late Dr. John Healy, the club is the oldest in the state and carries a rich history. While Southeastern does not endorse the team, it has historically fostered the progress of the club and continues to do so with grants and use of the Kinesiology field.

The team has won multiple Deep South Conference Championships and for nearly 20 years hosted the nation’s largest rugby tournament. In its prime years, the Mardi Gras Tournament, which the club won twice itself, accommodated 64 men’s teams and 18 women’s team and bolstered Hammond’s economy with the highest revenue of the year for those weekends.

“We beat LSU, we kicked their a-s in the first (Mardi Gras) tournament we won,” said alumnus Carl Guy, “but the older we are, the better we were, and we never lost a party.”

Almost 100 ruggers past and present and their families gathered to commemorate the occasion with some coming as far as Pennsylvania to attend. The festivities included a social gathering on Friday night and an alumni game on Saturday. At Friday’s gathering the alumni or “Old Boys,” as they are affectionately known, cavorted and reminisced over old times and met the younger members and current players. Many of the attendants had played together in alumni games past, while some had not seen each other for thirty years. </p>

It’s been 40 years of camaraderie,” said Art Graybill, of the original ’67 team, “I haven’t seen Hank (Ziller) in 30 years; we don’t keep in contact but in the essence of youth it’s like I just saw him.”

Dave Shepherd, “The Godfather of Lion’s Rugby,” saluted the club and its members, hailing it as an “International fraternity.” He also toasted to the memories of alumnus John Barillo who was killed while serving in Vietnam and the recently deceased Bob Tuminello, whose friends consider him one of the greatest players to ever grace the field, scoring an unheard of 389 points in one season. The “Old Boys” have gone on to such lucrative careers as Judges, Professors, Doo-wop singers, Politicians and Doctors.

“Rugby has given me the greatest friends that I’ve ever known,” said Hank Ziller of the ’73 team, “We share a camaraderie of pleasure, pain and passion.”

The alumni game on Saturday was characterized by stiff competition, hard hits and dynamic plays. In the first few minutes of the first half, rugby vet Jonathan “B-Cups” Fowler suffered a game ending nose laceration from the head of Southeastern’s A.J. Calderone. Luck and providence prevailed however as “Old Boy,” Dr. Dave Cuccia of the ’93 team was there to stitch him up before returning to play. The first Try was scored by alumnus Dean Woods at scrumhalf, who executed a “Tuminello Shuffle,” strolling from the five meter line to the try-zone uncontested. Winger Stephen Andrus of Southeastern answered back causing an “Old Boys” turnover and was able rocket downfield. He was chased down near the opposing 22 meter line by the long-legged alum Brandon Box, but one tight juke freed him to Try, bringing the score to 7-5 due to a wide Southeastern conversion kick. Both teams continued to drive the ball determinately for the rest of the half but neither saw the Try-zone until the end of the second half.

1980 standout, Bobby Aucoin, made some impressive breaks throughout the game, but none as spectacular as the game-ending hit he laid on Southeastern’s flanker Jesse Gray, which not only dropped the rugger cold but allowed him to gain some positive field position. Inside center, David Plauche of the “Old Boys” single-handedly thwarted a series of passes and drives as he pushed one player back five meters and man-handled the second nearly into the Try-zone. Late in the second half, Southeastern team cohesion yielded success as Andrus tore downfield after another caused turnover. Tori Umbu gave chase and nearly caught him before he dished the ball to rookie Chris DeCesare. DeCesare broke for the Try-zone; encountering opposition near the five meter line, DeCesare popped to Ryan Charbonnet who was able to punch into the Try-zone to take the lead. A series of drives attested to both teams’ determination, but it would be Plauche who would score off of the hard fought drive and dish from veteran Kevin Kirby, to tie the game and bring it to overtime..

In O.T., Cuccia, on the outside wing drove deep into Southeastern territory before getting it back inside to Kirby. Kirby broke downfield and relayed the ball down the wing back to Cuccia who was able to break for the Try.

With the score 19-12 near the end of the period, the “Old Boys” were feeling confident as Woods said, “Age and treachery will overcome youth and endurance.”

The last few minutes yielded a well-oiled drive of desperation as Southeastern drove and cut into alumni territory. DeCesare executed a brilliant “up and under” play in which he chip-kicked the ball to himself and blazed into the Try-zone to even the score once more. Play continued but with the both teams exhausted at the end of O.T., the captains decided to call it a game.

“They’ve got the talent, the muscle, and the speed, they just need to get their heads n the game,” said Dave Shepherd, “they’re very talented, but if they had somebody to coach them they would be really good.”

“We played better rugby than they did, but they had experience on us and played a lot of tricks on us,” said scrumhalf Miguel Larrea, “overall it was good competition.”

<p>Reunion and alumni organizer Cliff “Sonny” Fontenot had this to say about the occasion: </p>

<p>It was great to see so many old friends, and so many smiling faces of players that hadn’t seen each other since the 1960’s. Trying to contact well over 500 alumni players was a daunting task but email and networking has made communication much more effective, and attendance over the past few events has improved accordingly. Rugby is a very unique and team oriented sport that creates unparalleled camaraderie. There is no individualism in rugby; when a person scores, we all know he could not have done it without the rest of the team putting him into that position. Rugby friends are friends for life, and many end up serving in each other’s weddings, becoming business partners, etc. I think the uniquely long-term friendships stem from the fact that your teammates on the field often put themselves into dangerous positions to protect you, even when you know they didn’t have to. It means a lot to know someone would do that for you.</p>

<p>Some of the ruggers from SLU’s first teams who attended were Art Graybill, (anyone else please contact deepsouthrugby@hotmail.com to have your name added). Several others expressed their regrets and vowed to make the next one, including one known as rocker Vince Vance of “Vince Vance and the Valiants”.</p>

<p>And some who have passed away and were fondly remembered were: </p>

<p>Bob Tuminello, </p>

<p>David Kinchen, </p>

<p>Joe Fox, </p>

<p>Chuck Buckley.</p>

<p>Some thoughts from attendees on what SLU Rugby and the friendships it has formed through 4 decades has meant to them are … </p>

<p>From Sonny Fontenot –

David Shepherd was my college biology professor who introduced me to rugby, got me excited about biology, and convinced me to go to graduate school. When I look back to what got me to this point in my life, if it were not for David Shepherd, I would not have become a Ph.D. in Biology, nor played rugby throughout the U.S., as well as in Bermuda, Scotland, France, and Italy.

Thanks David!

Sonny Fontenot<p>

<p>Mapp’s comments –

The alumni event was a wonderful weekend. It gave former players the opportunity to see teammates they haven’t seen in years. Many entertaining, funny, embarrassing and even disgusting stories were shared. Even some old rugby songs came out of the vault. Hank Ziller had a great set up at his house. There were scrapbooks and pictures from past through present.

The game was very well played and entertaining for the spectators. Afterwards the social at Sonny’s was a tremendous feast and a continuation of the night from Friday.

Rugby has influenced my life greatly. I joined the team midway through my second semester during the fall of ’97. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the guys were encouraging. Through the years I have developed many strong friendships. I believe that if I didn’t join the rugby club I would have just gone to class and work, and probably would of became a fat ass. I made the right choice and played rugby, the greatest TEAM sport in the world. I still play rugby to this day. I’m still makin new friends and I still keep in touch with the old ones. I believe that everyone should experience rugby. (It just might change your life!)

I’m looking forward to the next event.

Jason Mapp </p>

<p>To add your thoughts send them to deepsouthrugby@hotmail.com</p>

Apartheid, Bob “Big Red” Causey, & the Springbok’s 1981 Tour

Bob "Big Red" Causey in 1981 USA Eagle vs South African Springboks

By Tom Crosby

Apartheid, Bob “Big Red” Causey, & the Springbok’s 1981 Tour

On January 9th, 2008, South Africa named the Springbok’s new coach, Peter de Villiers, to succeed the 2007 World Cup winning coach, Jake White. De Villiers is black. He was coach of South Africa’s 2005 U-19 World Cup champion side. The South African Rugby Football Union admits that de Villier’s appointment was not based on purely rugby grounds. In a complex country with multiple racial categories, former coach White faced continuing pressure to play more “black” players. Has de Villiers stepped into the same pressure or will he be able to pick the best players regardless of race as he claims he will? Time will tell.

The stories of South Africa’s deliverance from the stranglehold of apartheid are many. An interesting local side story about South Africa’s evolution involves the Springbok’s 1981 rugby tour and legendary Louisiana rugby player, Bob “Big Red” Causey. In 1980 Eastern Rugby Union President Tom Selfridge (who had played the Springboks on tour in 1978) arranged for South Africa to play 3 matches in the USA at the end of their 1981 tour to New Zealand. The nation of South Africa was under an international ban from economic and athletic exchanges with other countries. The matches were to be against the Midwest Rugby Union in Chicago, the Eastern Rugby Union in Albany, and the US Eagles in New York. Bob was picked to play in both the Eastern Rugby Union and the US Eagles match.

Rumors of the violent and sometimes bloody protests that followed the Springboks through Kiwiland preceded their arrival on US shores. The midseason baseball strike left sportswriters looking for something to cover. The little known US sport of rugby burst onto the front-page. Protests were organized. The US Olympic committee tried to ban the matches fearing African nations boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Mayor Koch of New York forbade the playing of the match in the city. The mayor of Albany fought the Governor of New York for the right to have the ERU vs Springbok match in Albany all the way to the US Supreme Court and won.

Through metal detectors and onto this pitch of international socio-political-sports attention ran “Big Red”. He recalls the military with guns in the windows of the buildings surrounding the pitch in Albany. The Springboks were huge and carrying a serious attitude of hostility. Many were ex-military with New Zealand hardened game faces. They had played 14 matches – winning 11, drawing one, and beating the All Blacks in the 2nd test by a score of 24-12. They were considered the best team in the world. Peter Jones was ref. At the first lineout Bob’s opposite number is subtly lifted. This a few years before the laws allowed lifting. On the second lineout Bob slips through, snatches the ball, and passes it. After the pass and as play moves to the other side of the pitch, his opponent holds him while the two props land a couple of punches at the same time practicing a new English phrase they were learning, “We will kill you!” Not good at taking a hint, Bob strips the ball at the next lineout. The Springboks showed their famous versatility when they switched and had the props hold him while the second row punched. Their scrum had this straight ahead, old-fashioned low hard maul with very little roll to it. Twice Bob wedged through it to snatch the ball. After the pass the entire South African pack made a special detour to run over him on their way to the next breakdown. The second time he ripped the ball away, he held on to the guy who hit him as he passed. The South African scrummies showed their feeling of equality as they ran over both Bob and their own teammate on their way to the next tackle. Big Red recalls Gary Lambert coming over at this point and saying, “ We are going to get through this.”

In the match Gary ran by Naas Botha (South Africa’s outstanding fly half and arguably the most prolific match winner in Springbok history) after a pass. There was some contact but slight and un-intentional. Later in the match Botha had an opportunity and took it to kick Gary in the head. But the match was not over. Gary got an “opportunity” after Botha made a pass and drove him 10 yards in a bone-crushing tackle. Play stopped. The Springbok forwards surrounded Gary. He wiped his lips with his jersey and strode directly at the biggest Bok and pushed past him. Gary became a focus for a lot of pent-up Springbok aggression after that. The ERU lost to the Springboks 41-0.

After the match Bob recalls telling Coach Hornball that he was through. He wanted his ticket home. DID NOT WANT TO PLAY THEM AGAIN!!!

At this point the protests seemed like a party. There were beer bashes and bands. Pete Seeger came to sing. University students and tv reporters were having a good time. Jesse Jackson (whose protests efforts had been thwarted when the Chicago match was mysteriously switched to Racine, Wisconsin) was busy trying to find where the USA Eagles vs the South Africa Springboks match would be held. The match was scheduled for Saturday, September 26th. Bob remembers a few of the fellow players got together Thursday evening to savor some of the moments and contemplate the next match. They talked about the new strategy – isolate and intimidate.

At 7 a.m. Friday he was awakened and told to get dressed in his game kit and don’t call anyone. They sent the South African players extra US kits, so they wouldn’t be as noticed leaving the hotel. Everyone left in small groups. They drove out of the city until they reached what seemed to be a pasture. It was the Owl Creek Polo Ground. The match was called so quickly and secretively the president of the USA Rugby Union didn’t know it was being held. The match is in the International Rugby Board’s (now World Rugby) data as the lowest attended international match in the history of the sport. Bob recalls a handful of the neighbors who came out and an occasional helicopter flying overhead. As soon as South Africa started their tricks the Eagles retaliated with ‘isolate and intimidate’. The game quickly calmed down and became straight hard rugby. The Springboks won 38-7 in what Bob feels was one of the greatest Eagle efforts. When the match ended and they arrived at the Saratoga Racetrack for the match reception, they found out the area had been surrounded by the State Police Swat Team. Later back at the hotel, the television news had live pictures of protestors being loaded onto buses to go to the match.

When asked questions pertaining to whether the South African rugby team is racist, Bob reflects more on his 1978 tour to South Africa than his ’81 match experiences before his answer. In 1978 he played in 8 matches on an Eagle tour to South Africa. The color divide was evident and along 4 categories: white, non-white, colored, black. The South Africans he met lived in a protected world with few liberties. Bob recalls being at a party by a pool and all of a sudden two heavily armed military police jumped the wall. Someone had called in a complaint that marijuana was being smoked. When the military found this was not true and that the US Eagle rugby side was at the party, they sat around and talked rugby for a couple of hours. He remembers being in Orange Free State and thinking that in comparison with the Afrikaaners, the black population was small in stature. He pulls his thoughts and memories together and reflects on his own love of rugby. He has a thoughtful moment about the Afrikaans South African nation, where rugby is a religion, and the black South African nation where rugby is a game and a philosophy. He concludes that because of the physical stature and historical relationships to the game, South Africa’s international team will probably remain predominantly white for the foreseeable future.

The only match the touring side won on the tour was against an all black side. The ceremonial team tie Bob received after the match with the emblem of two hands extended out of the jungle holding a rugby ball remains his special tie of choice for a rugby occasion.

2008 New Orleans Half-Moons Mardi Gras Rugby Tournament

By Tom Crosby

2008 New Orleans Half-Moons Mardi Gras Rugby Tournament

On a sunny Saturday morning in early February right across the river from the madness of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Buffalo Gals kicked off against FSU while LSU played Texas A&M. The New Orleans Women’s Half-Moons served up the 27th (or is it 26th) Mardi Gras Women’s Rugby Tournament. The trophy says 26th, but the t-shirts say 27th. What the heck?! The tournament is about having fun, playing rugby, and camaraderie – with healthy helpings of creativity, love, and fond memories.

Tracy Moens (long time New Orleans area rugger and Eagle (?)) remembers the first tournament being in 1981. She remembers the pitches being up on the batcher in Audubon Park and being laid out so there was a tree on one of them. It put a whole new meaning to strategic kicking. The first tournament was an off-shoot of Hammond’s mega Mardi Gras Tournament which reached 64 men’s teams and 16 women’s teams. The Hammond tournament began around 1976. The joke is made that the tournament was started because one year it was so cold the Hammond pitches were covered with ice, so they decided to move the women’s part of the tournament south. The Halfmoon’s Mardi Gras Tournament has been held in New Orleans (or current site in Gretna) consecutively since 1981 except in 2006 when Katrina played her devastating match. Last year there were 4 teams. This year there were 8 teams in 2 divisions. In the college division, in order of finish in this round robin tournament, were Texas A&M, University of Florida, LSU, and Rice. In the club division the order of finish was Buffalo Gals, FSU, USM, and Halfmoons.

There is some dispute over the winner of the first tournament. Tracy remembers it being a battle between FSU and the Houston Hearts as this was a perennial final in the early years of the tournament. Janine Pardee (Buffalo Gal) recalls it being Tampa Tarbabies against the Houston Hearts. The Tarbabies came over with about 9 players and picked up 4 or 5 players from FSU. Bee Bee (Buffalo Gal) and Suzie Rosen (Buffalo Gal) were two of these players. This was back in the days when FSU was often national champs. Another player who thought she had been at the first final recalls a team from Portland won. Anyway – regardless of who won or if it was the 26th or 27th the tournament has developed a tremendous sense of camaraderie and love among participants.

Tania Hahn (Buffalo Gal, Eagle Reserve’98, tournament director since ‘92) sees the tournament growing to possibly 2 divisions of 6 next year with an ultimate goal of building back to two 12 team divisions. Beyond the obvious reason of Katrina the tournament had been losing popularity because it was seen to have dropped in its level of competitiveness. Tania acknowledges that a team like Beantown would deliver a large boot to the rump of any of the teams present, but the level of competition is certainly improving. Janine Pardee claimed that she had recently seen the Division II champs (?) and that several teams at the Mardi Gras tournament would give them a good game and the Buffalo Gals would handle them easily.

The Buffalo Gals are a large force behind the Mardi Gras tournament. Many of them coming to be Buffalo Gals through participating in the Mardi Gras tournament. The Buffalo Gals are a group of about 50 women from all around the country who keep in touch via email. They play in 4 tournaments a year – the Mardi Gras tournament, Saranac Lake in New York, and two others. For different tournaments they take different names, but for the Mardi Gras tournament they are always the Buffalo Gals. Buffy (?) (Buffalo Gal) a naval aviator from Colorado was selling t-shirts for the New Orleans Halfmoons. She couldn’t play because of a broken arm (snowboarding accident) and had to fly out the next morning for her niece’s wedding, but she had to be part of the tournament. Since first coming to the tournament in the mid-80’s she has only missed twice – when she was stationed in Japan. Tania, who is well into her second decade as tournament organizer for the New Orleans Halfmoons, plays with the Buffalo Gals. Candi Orsini (Buffalo Gal – Eagle?) agrees it is the special camaraderie, good competition, and shared memories that brings her back. The memories are of clever and spectacular skits at parties as much as of hard fought rugby matches.

For information on the 2009 New Orleans Halfmoon’s Mardi Gras Rugby Tournament go to www.halfmoonsrugby.com or contact Tania Hahn at tehahn@hotmail.com.

The Rugby Pride of the Deep South, Louisiana’s U-19 Select Side

By Tom Crosby

The Rugby Pride of the Deep South, Louisiana’s U-19 Select Side

As Deep South club rugby struggles to gain national competitive strength, the Louisiana U-19 select side (in only 5 years of existence) is already recognized as a national power. Coach Jerry Malina has started putting together the side that will travel in May to Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Challenge, the premiere youth tournament in the country and where selectors will be scouting for participants for the June regional camps. The Louisiana U-19’s will be defending their title as champions against teams from strong unions like Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Manitoba Canada, Utah, Pacific Northwest, New York, Southern California, and the American School of London. Most of these are much bigger than the Louisiana 5 team union (Jesuit, Brother Martin, Rummel, Shaw, and Episcopal School of Acadiana).

They call themselves the Louisiana U-19 Select Side, but most of the players are from New Orleans with a kid or 2 from ESA in Lafayette. To date no central or north Louisiana kids have played on the side. The first year (2003) they placed 14th of 16, winning 1 of their 4 games. The next year they made the semifinal before losing to Southern California and placing 4th. In 2006 the kids were spread around the country due to Katrina. Somehow they got together, often practicing as far away as Baton Rouge. They adopted a hurricane symbol with a rugby ball at the center and named the team “The Refugees”. Against incredible obstacles they went to the tournament and won coming from behind to beat Colorado in the final. This past year they became the first and only team to win the tournament twice – and back to back. In what was described by one USA age grade coach as the best age grade game he had witnessed. They beat Utah 15-14, coming from behind against a huge, highly talented team of kids, most from the rugby playing South Pacific islands. This year they face the challenge of extending their record to 3 consecutive tournament titles.

Coach Malina brings tremendous quality rugby experiences to support his team. He has played with Akron, Ft. Myers, Life, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. While at Life College they beat archrival and rugby power Palmer College five times. He toured Korea and Hong Kong. They beat the Korean national selects and made it to the final four in both 7’s and 15’s at the tournaments associated with the famous Hong Kong 7s. While at Life he played center mostly. From 1983-1990 he played for the Eastern Rugby Union in 9 international test trials and 3 foreign tours to Scotland, Ireland, and Bermuda. He was named ERU captain on several occasions. He fondly recalls the great moment when the ERU beat Melrose, a top Scottish team, 13-12 at their home stadium, the Greenyards – the birthplace of 7’s rugby. He was playing opposite Keith Robertson a highly capped Scottish center. He has had several stints coaching New Orleans RFC and was instrumental in the start of the Louisiana U-19’s 5 years ago to compete in the Rocky Mountain challenge.

Several Louisiana U-19 players have made the USA camps and pools with Eric West (ex-Jesuit/LSU) and Adam Ducoing (ex-Brother Martin/LSU) playing in the U-19 World Cup last year where the USA had their best showing ever. They are now selected to play in the upcoming U-20 World Championships in Wales in June of this year. Adam has even made the cover of Rugby Magazine. This past weekend (Feb. 16th) they played for the USA U-20s against Canada U-20’s at the Freedom Cup in Lakeland, Florida. Adam started at number 14 and Eric was a reserve. The US lost a closely contested match by a score of 19-14. (For an excellent account of the match go to http://rugby.viadecto.com/default.asp) At the same “tournament” Michael Bordes (Jesuit) played for the USA U-18 side. He came in at wing in the second half in their 30 to 0 win over the USA U-17s.

Congratulations to Adam, Eric, and Mike, Louisiana U-19 select side, and Coach Jerry Malina. Hopefully these very talented ruggers will remain in this region to help with the development of nationally competitive first division clubs.

The 2008 Episcopal School of Acadiana High School Ruggerfest

By Tom Crosby

The 2008 Episcopal School of Acadiana High School Ruggerfest

On March 1st and 2nd In the little town of Cade, Louisiana, (just south of Lafayette in the heart of Cajun country) seven high schools gathered to compete in the ESA High School Ruggerfest. Jesuit entered 2 sides and Brighton High School (representing several schools in Tipton County, Tennessee) entered 3 sides. The teams were divided into 2 divisions. Jesuit A-side easily captured the championship in the 1st Division and ESA won the 2nd Division championship defeating Shaw 24-10 in a hard fought final. Also attending the tournament were Rummel from New Orleans and Westside and Mt. Carmel Bel Air from Houston.

The tournament has steadily grown from its inception four years ago to become more and more attractive to teams from outside Louisiana. Coach Craig Malinsky from Westside in Houston said it is an excellent tournament, and he can’t wait to tell other coaches in Houston about it. They usually go to the 16 team high school tournament in Dallas which attracts good competition from sometimes as far away as Canada. The competition at the ESA Ruggerfest is comparable and, like Dallas, only 4 hours from Houston. Westside is a unique Title 1 high school. Coach Malinsky (a Grace King graduate who started playing rugby at Arkansas State University) is a paid coach for the varsity sport of rugby. Rugby is offered as a PE credit and kids come to the sport from all sorts of different sport offerings. Errol Allard, current Junior Eagle on the U-20 side, is a Westside graduate. Brighton High School from just outside Memphis is the current runner-up Tennessee state champions and will be competing in the regional championships this year. The Brighton rugby team is a community side drawing players from 3 high schools in Tipton County, Tennessee. Coach Justin Whitmer said they usually go to the Nashbash High School Tournament in Nashville. It is a 25 team tournament. Coach Whitmer said he would definitely return to the ESA Ruggerfest as it has a higher concentration of quality sides and the weather is much better. The travel and high level of competition helped bring his team together in significant ways. They were humbled by the Louisiana sides and realized that sheer athleticism will not overcome well coached sides who execute fundamentals properly. Coach Tim Falcon of Shaw in New Orleans (who has been to every Ruggerfest since they began in 2005) concurs that it is an excellently run tournament.

One of the tournament’s first-rate referees (Chris Liddy) complemented the excellent organization and care shown to referees. He enjoyed the matches he refereed, as the play was hard but clean. Chris had recently been to a high school tournament in Florida. He refereed a match between a Ft. Lauderdale and a Pennsylvania side. From what he witnessed at the Florida tournament he felt the level of high school rugby in Louisiana has risen to be nationally competitive. He went on to comment that the growth of high school rugby in the state is related to the improvement of Louisiana college rugby and is directly responsible for LSU’s current success and recent visits to the ‘College Sweet 16 Tournament’. He complemented ESA on the quality of their 2 pitches. The best pitch being better than LSU’s and possibly the best rugby pitch in the state. He, also, felt the tournament had incredible crowd enthusiasm and a very pleasant family atmosphere.

Jesuit hooker, Billy Wright, commented that the tournament this year was much better because there were more teams. Etienne Rene (Jesuit’s #8) concurred. He went on the say that the teams from other states gave Jesuit a chance to compare themselves against other teams as they pretty much dominate all teams in the state. The Jesuit A-side won its 2 matches on Saturday against Westside (43-0) and Brighton A-side (57-0). The Brighton side was so impressed by the play of Jesuit that they honored them with a post match congratulatory “circle dance & chant”. For the final on Sunday no team showed up to face the Jesuit A-side.

ESA coach, Brian McIntyre, is looking for the tournament to grow even more. He would like to see the tournament expand to 16 high school teams in 2 divisions. He would, also, like to add a collegiate and a women’s division. They have played with the date of the tournament, but a couple of tournaments held on cold rainy February days have led them to settle on the first weekend in March. The school is looking to add a 3rd pitch and has considerable resources in community sponsorship and support from the school’s booster club, the ESA Legion. ESA has about 100 boys in its high school and about 30 of these are on the rugby team. From sixth grade on all students (boys and girls) are introduced to the sport in their PE classes. The school has tried to start a girl’s side, but the lack of competition has made maintaining interest very difficult.

Coach McIntyre invites all interested in information about next year’s ESA Rugger Fest to contact him at bwmcintyre@esacadiana.com.

Deep South 2008 Division Champions

By Tom Crosby

Deep South 2008 Division Champions

Boys High School: Co-Louisiana State Champs and South Regional Champs – Jesuit (multi-school) and Rummel (single school)

The state high school tournament on April 26th ended early as heavy rain with lightning began 3 minutes into the 3rd-4th place play-off match between Shaw and Brother Martin. Jesuit and Rummel agreed to cancel the final. There was no official declaration of a state champion. Jesuit had had a perfect season. Brother Martin defeated Shaw in the play-off 29-5. The following were the team coaches: Jesuit – Robert Markel, Rummel – Trip McCormick and Kevin Kern, Brother Martin – Gary Giepert, Shaw-Tim Falcon.

Louisiana sent three teams to the USA Rugby South Regional Tournament hosted by Middle Tennessee State University in Murphreesboro, Tennessee, held on May 3rd and 4th. Jesuit went as the Louisiana representative team to the multi-school division. This was Jesuit’s choice because travel arrangements made it difficult to get to the tournament for the earlier match times of the single school bracket. Rummel was the number one seed in the single school division of the tournament based on Jesuit winning and Rummel coming in second in the tournament last year. Rummel captured the single school South Regional Tournament by defeating an enormous side from Gilbert High School, South Carolina. The final score was 17-15. To get to the final Rummel defeated Ravenwood of Nashville (17-10) and Brentwood of Murphressboro (7-0). Jesuit defeated a multi-school side from Atlanta (17-15) called the Trojans. They were a large side coached by South Africans with several South African players. To get to the final Jesuit defeated a side from Knoxville by several tries and a close come from behind win (14-12) over a Chapel Hill side with New Zealand coaches. The story goes that the Kiwi and South African coaches were asking Jesuit parents where Markel was from – to which Markel asked them to reply, “ A country for old men.”

The National Tournament was the weekend of May 30-June 1st. Both Rummel and Jesuit competed for national titles. Rummell in the single school division and Jesuit in the multi-school U-19 club division.

Raiders lost their first match to the Notre Dame de La Salette Lions by a score of 31-0.

The Lions went on to the final match, losing to the Jesuit Marauders (Sacramento, California) 22-5. Rummell lost their second match 74-0 versus Xavier (New York) and their last match, a hard fought battle against St. Joe’s Prep (Philadelphia), by a score of 12-8 to finish 8th out of the 8 schools in their division.

The Blue Jays lost their first match (a valiant battle) against the defending tournament champion, Highland Rugby Club (Utah) by a score of 41-7. The Blue Jays withered in their second match losing to the LA Cougars (California) 25-0 and then lost a very exciting match 21-20 against Union County (New Jersey) to finish 8th in the division.

College / University

Men’s Collegiate Division III Champs: Univeristy of Louisiana Lafayette

University of Louisiana Lafayette Men’ Rugby were arguably one try away from being the national champions. University of Louisiana Lafayette Men’s Rugby and Coach LeJeune made it to the USA Rugby South Collegiate Championship Finals against Furman University. After a Furman 7-5 lead through the first half and 12 – 5 lead into the second half, ULL pulled back to tie the match at 12 -12 with 1 minutes left. However, in the last 10 minutes Furman scored the match-winning try leaving the final score 19 – 12.

The win over ULL allowed Furman (15-3-1 overall, 7-0-1 spring) to advances to the national National DIII Championship Tournament, held April 26-27 in Hamilton, New York. Furman has collected five Rugby South Championships and three National Championships during the past six years since Division 3 was established. In 2007, the Furman Paladins fell one point short in national finals with a 11-10 loss to Bentley (Boston). Their first game of the tournament was a semi-final match vs. Widener from the East Penn RU. In a fast paced, hard hitting match Furman triumphed 31-20. Furman lost the final to Plymouth State (PRU) by one try – 22-17.

Coach Boyd Lejeune’s comments:

Hey there, we will be losing 2 starting locks and 1 substitute back, so I think that we should be ready for another run. I am lucky to have such a great group of young men. Our concept is to develop a tight family atmosphere that strengthens us through any ordeal that comes our way. We are able to throw around ideas and everyone contributes to the team’s success. Since the boys have invested so much time and effort, I am able to guide them to attain what we set out to do. Everyone knows that each person is important to the team, there are no cliques or attitudes. If you start this match, you are no more better than another chap who has shown up for every practice and put his blood and sweat on the line for his teammates and coach Bill and myself. I sometimes wish we had the numbers of say an LSU, but God has given me a tight group of 18 guys that have made the university, the fans, and coaches very proud.

Men’s Collegiate Division 1 Champs – LSU??

Technically LSU plays in the Texas Union, but certainly there is an argument that they are spiritually a Deep South Side. There are currently no other Division 1 sides in the Deep South Union. Ranked as high as number 7 in the country, LSU consistently played exceptional rugby all year. LSU’s record was 17 wins and 1 loss, including beating a very good Tennessee team to win the SEC Championships and winning the Texas Rugby Union Division 1 championships. The LSU Rugby Club lost to the University of Colorado 37 –21 at the Western Collegiate Championships held in Fort Worth. LSU had an 11-point lead with 15 minutes to go but a very strong Colorado team battled back and won. LSU had too many penalties, and some crucial mistakes let the Buffalos back in the match. Colorado went on to win the tournament on Sunday beating the Air Force Academy 27-20. LSU beat the University of Nebraska in the third place match 20-7. LSU ended up with a #17 ranking by American Rugby News. (University of Tennessee ended up ranked #12 even though they were beaten by LSU in the SEC Tournament.)

Colorado lost 42-13 to Brigham Young University in the semi-final. For the 3rd consecutive time in the final BYU faced UC-Berkeley. Berkeley captured their 24th national title by defeating the Cougars by a score of 59-7.

LSU Coach Scott McLean comments: We had solid wins this season against Shreveport Rugby Club, Baton Rouge Rugby Club, Old White Rugby Club, University of Florida Rugby Club, University of Tennessee Rugby Club, Texas A and M (finally !), Sam Houston, University of Texas, and University of Nebraska.

The program continues to get better and should be “reloading” with talent as more high school programs develop and student athletes are coming to LSU to get their education and be part of a great rugby program.

LSU 2007-2008 Coaches: Scott McLean, Mike Moore, John Staub, Bob Causey.

Men’s Division II Champs: The New Orleans Rugby Football Club

The NORFC posted an undefeated season defeating main rival Memphis both at home and away to give New Orleans home field advantage for the South regional play-off with the Atlanta Renegades division II side. New Orleans easily handled the Atlanta side and at the South division II championships in Jacksonville lost their first match 22-8 to Charleston. Augusta fell to the NORFC in their second match (30-11) giving New Orleans a place at the national playoffs in Austin on May 17th. New Orleans was seeded #13 and faced #4 seed Tulsa (the #1 team from the West). Tulsa jumped out to a big lead in the first half and held on to it through the second half to end a great NORFC season.

Tulsa fell to Detroit by a score of 47-14 after getting behind 37-0 by half. Detroit lost to Brandywine who went into the final as the top seed, but ended up losing to Red Mountain 41-18. Detroit, also, lost the consolation match to Wisconsin 24-16 to end up in 4th place.

NORFC Coach: Jerry Malina

Comments from Deep South Rugby Union President, Charles Dube:

Because several of the Deep South brackets contain teams from Georgia and Mid-South LAU’s we only had two outright Deep South LAU winners. ULL won the Men’s Collegiate Div III and New Orleans won the Senior Men’s Div II.

One could argue that because Pensacola was 2nd in their bracket that they would be the Div III Senior Men’s winner, but without having them play Birmingham that may be a stretch. Deep South only has two Div II collegiate sides in Bama and Ole Miss. Bama did beat Ole Miss in regular matrix play, but I believe that Ole Miss may have finished higher in the matrix bracket. Certainly doesn’t look impressive that we have all of these mixed brackets in the Deep South. In a regular season if everything goes against the Deep South teams we would only have the Div III collegiate winner as the sole representative from the Deep South at any playoff level.

On a side note I have to give props to MSU who were 2nd in the Div III collegiate bracket and DID travel to Lee University in Tennessee when Tenn Tech did not travel down to play ULL in the 1st round of the playoffs!

Congratulations to University of Louisiana Lafayette Men’s Rugby and Coach LeJeune

By Tom Crosby

Congratulations to University of Louisiana Lafayette Men’s Rugby and Coach LeJeune for making it to the USA Rugby South Collegiate Championship Finals against Furman University!!! After a Furman’s 7-5 lead through the first half and 12 – 5 lead into the second half, ULL pulled back to tie the match at 12 -12 with 15 minutes left. However, in the last 10 minutes Furman scored the match-winning try leaving the final score 19 – 12. Brian Stringer, USA Rugby South Collegiate Director said he was ” impressed by the behavior, good manners, and exemplary sportsmanship UL demonstrated both on and off the field.” Stringer also spoke highly of Coach LeJeune saying he must also “pay tribute to the huge contribution Coach Boyd LeJeune has made to the UL rugby program.” Needless to say, the Deep South is very proud of this team and their leadership.

Keith Knowlton scored two trys to lead the Furman men’s rugby team to a 19-12 victory over the University of Louisiana Lafayette in the Rugby South Division III Championship game Sunday.

With the win Furman (15-3-1 overall, 7-0-1 spring) advances the national National DIII Championship Tournament, which will be held April 26-27 in Hamilton, New York.

Hosted by the University of Alabama, Furman advanced to the tournament’s championship game with a 26-10 win Saturday over Elon University while ULL (6-1 spring) bested Lee College 23-18.

Knowlton, a senior center, helped the Paladins to an early 7-0 after a try and successful conversion by Blair Barton midway through the first half. ULL, champions of the Deep South Rugby Union, scored an unconverted try late in the half to cut the Paladins’ lead to 7-5.

Midway through the second half an unconverted try by freshman Monty Turner helped the Paladins to a 12-5 advantage. Five minutes later, the Ragin Cagins answered with a converted try to tie the contest.

With less than four minutes remaining Knowlton broke through several tackles and rushed 30 yards for a try that would put Furman ahead 19-12 after Barton’s successful conversion. During the game?s waning moments the Cajuns advanced deep in Furman territory before time ran out.

Zach Mullinax and Kyle Tenke scored two trys each in Furman’s Saturday victory over Elon, champions of the North Carolina Rugby Union.

Furman has collected five Rugby South Championships and three National Championships during the past six years. In 2007, the Paladins fell one point short in national finals with a 11-10 loss to Bentley

(Boston).

Saturday 4/26

11am Plymouth State vs Hamilton College

1pm Widener vs Furman

Sunday 4/27

11am Consolation

1pm Championship

The 2007 World Cup

By Tom Crosby

The 2007 World Cup

One week before I took off for France my early prediction was of a French world cup victory.  Optimism about the US Eagles winning 2 matches faded with a pre-world cup loss to a weak Munster side. There was little hope of beating England on October 8th, so Oct. 12th in Montpelier against Tonga was the do-or-go-home-winless match for the USA. There was not much hope for later matches against Samoa and South Africa.

I had been struggling with bronchitis for 4 months before leaving for France –  possibly the result of trailer living and post-Katrina conditions in New Orleans. At one point the doctor said I was on the edge of pneumonia and a hospital stay.

September 11th, 2007 Colchester, England: USA v England

I arrived in England in time to read about the French humiliation at the hands of Argentina. The Times was predicting an English triumph over the USA Eagles – described as “chunky and unfancied” by the English scribes.  The next day The Sunday Times was treating the 28-10 (England-USA) as a loss for the home team. I watched the USA’s marvelous effort in the living room of my wife’s sister’s husband in Colchester, England. He was even impressed with the Yanks’ effort.

We left England to  settle  into an efficiency with a loft in the French village of Leucate. Although small (2,000 or so residents) it had a very nice rugby stadim. I watched the French first side Toulouse play Perpignan in the village while we were there.  

My earlier world cup predictions of a French victory were a shambles after Argentina spanked them in Paris in the opening match. Unless France could remake their side and find some commitment to match that of even the 2nd tier teams like Namibia this was going to quite an embarrassment for the French.

 September 12th, 2007 Montpellier, France: USA v Tonga

On occasions like this, the hand of fate is infalible. As long time friend from my Tulane University rugby days, John Howe, pulled into the car park at the Montpelier train station, we were moving our own car into the same lot. We all hopped the tram to the Mosson Stadium and had pre-match beers and pizza from a patisserie. John’s French friend Christian informed us that beers in the stadium could be 7 Euros (11 dollars) because the IRB was taking a healthy cut to support rugby in poor countries. It turned out beers were 5 Euros and we drank to Namibia and Georgian rugby. Security at the stadium was severe and haphazard. My wife had her small but lethal bottle of Oil of Ulay confiscated and just about everyone was body searched. I walked through without even having my ticket checked. The USA play was hapless as security. After two minutes, Tonga’s scrum easily pushed over for a try. The USA looked like a B-side college team as fly half Hercus held any good ball way too long before passing, running into Tongan defense, or kicking it away. The sun was strong. The day was hot. The crowd was decidedly pro-Tongan. At half-time, we moved from crowded lower level seats in the end zone to midfield seats in the upper deck. A nice breeze and plenty of space with a view over the countryside as well as the pitch made the second half much more pleasant. The USA played the second half like they had the will to win. But continuing disorder in the backs left a gaping hole that the Tongan Tonka Trucks rolled through for another try to seal it. As the Tongans took a victory walk to a standing ovation around the pitch, the USA Eagles – heads down – slumped off the pitch knowing the previous 80 minutes represented their best shot ‘at a 2007 World Cup victory. After more beers and pizza in Montpellier, we bid farewell to John and Christian. My wonderfully sober wife, Carolyn, drove us back to Leucate. Mark Bielski, another long time friend from the Tulane days, and I headed to a local pub to watch Italy v Rumania. We had just settled into our beers when the bartender switched the channel to the France v Scotland soccer match. We sauntered – which is French for staggered – through the village until we found another bar with the game on a wide screen TV. We sat back in comfortable chairs with a carafe of local wine and savored the wine, the match, and a fantastic day. Viva le Coupe du Monde !!

September 17th, 2007 Montpellier, France: Tonga v Samoa

The sunrise drive from Leucate to Montpelier took you through grape vine covered hills and tiny southern France villages. We parked at the stadium ticket office by 10 only to find it didn’t open until noon for the 2 p.m. match. We discussed coming back for the Sept 30 South Africa v USA match. Carolyn had become a rugby fanatic in the last week and an adoring fan of the chiseled jaw, golden haired South African fullback, Percy Montgomery. September 30 coincided with our wedding anniversary and the 100 Euro tickets that were available would be a wonderful present for us both. After we strolled the narrow streets around Comedy Square and soaked up the sunshine and rugby enthusiasm in Montpelier, we hopped the tram back to the stadium. The ticket line was about 10 people deep and moved quickly. We found out we couldn’t buy the Sept 30 tickets until the Friday before the match and that we couldn’t use our Visa (official preferred credit card of the World Cup) to buy tickets. After paying cash for the tickets and buying 2 official world cup t-shirts with our visas’ we settled down for freshly grilled sausage po-boys and half liters of Heineken draft.  The buses carrying the Samaon and Tongan teams rolled by to the cheers of the gathering crowd.  The pre-game video was fun with highlights of previous World Cup matches, Samoan and Tongan World Cup histories, and interviews with the team captains. As the teams came out to warm-up, the p.a. system started playing the New Orleans tune Iko Iko. It was an intense match right from the the hakas. The Tongan team went first. The captain charged across the midfield line and after their haka, he led his fellow Tongans to the midfield line, forcing the Samoans to do their haka a safe distance back. Tonga hung on to a 4 point lead in the final minutes with only 13 players. The crowd – initially split between Tongan and Samoan supporters – was eventually almost totally pro Tongan thanks to the referee’s careless sending off of Tongan players. After warm congratulations between Tongan and Samoan players, the Tongans took 2 walks around the pitch to the standing ovation of the crowd. The Tongan coach then led the Tongan team out again (a few players carrying their children) to stretch and for what one could imagine to be a talk on what it felt like to pull off the upset. They knew they were one upset away from being the first Tongan team to ever reach a World Cup quarterfinal. 

 Once safely back in Leucate, we wandered to El Chupito Pub to watch France dismantle Namibia.

While hanging around outside the stadium before the Tonga v Samoa match, I saw a poster advertising an international veterans’ tournament around Montpellier on Sept. 22nd. World Cup fever inspired me to whip myself into shape and try to pick-up with a team. The first 2 days of training didn’t go too well. Since leaving New Orleans in June, I had suffered with a respiratory problem which had tenaciously clung to my lungs through 3 antibiotic treatments. After 5 minutes of a gentle jog, I was coughing and hacking like a man with a 30 year two pack a day habit. Last night at El Chupito Pub, while watching Scotland dismantle Romania 42-0, the owner (former rugby player for Lyon) suggested I try one of the region’s thermal baths. We drove toward Spain into a valley of the Pyrenees in search of a miraculous cure from some magical waters. The scenery was spectacular and all the small French villages we drove through had signs proclaiming they celebrate 2 rugbies ¬(13’s and 15’s). Unfortunately when we arrived at Amelie-Les-Bains, the place was heaving with sickly folks seeking the magical waters. We couldn’t even find a place to park.  I remained on the injured reserve list for Saturday’s tourney. I hope to at least observe a little of the tournie before finding a pub to watch Saturday’s matches.

September 26th, 2007 Toulouse, France: Portugal v Romania

The TGV (fast train) had just started picking up speed as it left Toulouse. The previous evenings battle between Romania and Portugal for the bottom of pool C was a gratingly slow match. The combined number of back line movements for both sides could be counted on one hand without using your thumb. Eventually the Romanian scrum wore down the Portugese. If it weren’t for the rugby loving spirit of the Toulouse people, a beautiful stadium with a half-roof to keep the drizzle off, and spending time with a French friend, Lilian, it could have been a miserable evening. The Toulouse crowd was in the mood for an evening of World Cup rugby. It was strongly pro-Portugal, but the largest cheer was “Toulousain” which Lilian explained was a combined cheer for the Toulouse rugby team and the people of Toulouse.

Although the IRB website did not show the match sold out, getting tickets was not easy. The IRB and SNCF (train company) representative (Marie Sautel) at the official World Cup welcome point at the Toulouse train station suggested I try a local store that handled sport and concert tickets and, if not there, buy them from someone before the match. When I said I had read several places that the IRB did not want you buying from people outside the stadiums, she shrugged and replied, “Maybe someone does not want to go”. Lilian and I tried the ticket outlet. They said they had some on Saturday, but had sold them. Lilian had to go back to work and dropped me at the stadium. On the chance that Marie did not have all her info straight, I asked a security person if the ticket office was open. He showed me where it was and said it would open in 30 minutes. There was one other person in line. I took a walk and came back at 2 to find 12 people in line. By 2:15 there were 15 people in line and the office still was not open. I decided to spend my time enjoying the sights of Toulouse.  At 5:00 I went back to the ticket office. It was open but there was a sign saying “No Tickets”. I guess I will never know if there ever were any official tickets.

As Lilian had Parents Night at his school, we had agreed to meet 30 minutes before kick-off. I arrived a little early and quickly found 2 tickets from a Spanish rugger who had (as Marie predicted) two friends who had decided they didn’t want to go to the match.

September 27th, 2007 St. Etienne, France: USA v Samoa

It is the morning after one of those incredible World Cup evenings. The USA play was fantastic from 14 of the 15 players. I take back all the bad things I’ve said about Mike Hercus. He kept the ball moving and was all over the pitch. It was a thrilling match to watch. The player who let the USA down was #13 Philip Eloff. After Samoa’s first 2 tries which were a direct result of him being out of position on the first try and missing a tackle on the second, I started writing down his missed tackles, coming up slow in defense, not passing to support outside, a penalty for hanging on to the ball, and other poor play. Why he was not replaced one can only imagine. He was directly responsible for at least a 13 point difference in a 25 to 21 defeat. Now that I am through venting on Philip let me get on to the special world cup moment. It was drizzling rain and I had not brought any spare clothes on my Toulouse and St Etienne journey. Hotel rooms were full in St Etienne and I was lucky to find a room in someone’s house through the tourist office. I rode the tram most of the afternoon just to stay out of the rain. I got to the stadium early hoping to hang around a bar, but there were none in the area except a grocery store chain’s cafeteria with a big screen tv. I was very tempted to stay out of the chilly rain and watch the match on tv. But it is France and in a grocery store cafeteria you can get an excellent bottle of wine with a quarter roast chicken for $8. Fortified with wine and chicken I headed out to find my seat. My ticket was for somewhere in the end zone, so I settled right between the post. I was in the end goal where every point was scored except for 1 Samoan penalty in the 2nd half (a result of Eloff hanging on to the ball). The crowd was overwhelmingly for Samoa, but by the 2nd half the USA’s exciting form of play and efforts had gained them tremendous respect and an equal amount of the cheers. It was 80 minutes of fun rugby to watch. The match was memorable and would have been a wonderful upset, but  the truly memorable moment was the farewell from this World Cup to the Samoan side. The crowd gave them a 30 minute standing ovation. The Samoans did their haka to each side of the stadium. At the end the 35 year old Samoan legend, Brian Lima, in his 5th and (probably) last World Cup with his jersey off and his 6-pack rippling led another haka. The crowd went wild. One Samoan player took his jersey and handed it to a kid in the crowd. I’m not sure if it was drizzle or a tear, but my cheeks were moist.

October 1st, 2007 Montpellier, France: USA v South Africa

On a drizzly Sunday morning we popped The Boss’s Seeger Session CD in the car’s player and wound our way north from Leucate to Montpellier. We quickly found a parking spot close to Mossun Stadium. It was 9 hours before kick-off. The ticket office was closed with no signs about availability or when it might open. Before hopping the tram into the city we checked that the Bar Las Vegas (close to the stadium) had a TV where we could watch Ireland v Argentina in case we had to come back early for tickets. We got off the tram and were told at the IRB’s welcome booth that tickets were still available. We wandered the lovely old streets of Montpellier and, as the skies cleared, settled into a cafe in Comedy Square to celebrate our anniversary with a great meal and a few glasses of champagne. A horde of South African clad rugby supporters were already gathering in the square. After lunch, Carolyn was feeling a little sleepy. We found a spot in front of the giant screen in the square to watch France v Georgia. She lay her head on my lap and dozed until experiencing what she calls her most magical world cup moment. She awoke to to the rousing voices of the French crowd standing all around her singing the Marseillaise. We shifted to a couple of seats in an outdoor cafe where I could get a beer and still watch the match around the flow of the crowd and the occasional passing of a tram. I saw a sign a for tickets for sale at the cafe next to us. A group of South African’s had two extra tickets.  They didn’t get the joke when I asked if they would be supporting the USA as they looked dumbfounded and pointed at their head to toe Springbok gear. We watched France’s clobber Georgia and after 20 minutes of Argentina taking a 4 try lead over Ireland,  we took the tram back to the stadium. With 15 minutes left in the match, we squeezed our way into a corner of Bar Las Vegas to watch the convincing rise of the new rugby power – Argentina. Walking out of the bar we fondly remembered 6 years before in another Las Vegas we had pledged before God and Elvis to forever stay off of each others’ blue suede shoes. After a trip back to our car to get our world cup outfits on, we headed to the food and beer tents outside the stadium. With beer and excellent French frites in hand, we sat down at a table with an Australian and South African couple. We got the usual questions about New Orleans. Is the city still under water? How can the most powerful country in the world be so inept at helping its own people?

What can you say? No, it is not under water. Yes, the huge hulking bureaucracies of local, state, and federal governments tripped all over themselves blaming each other and accomplishing little.

Fortified with beer and frites, we scampered – yes, scampered!! -up to our seats in the upper deck of Stade Mosson to bravely (if off key) sing The Star Spangled Banner surrounded by our new South African friends.

Since I last wrote about the thwarted trip to the the miracle waters in the thermal pools in the Pyrenes, I went to a French doctor. After several sleepless nights,  Carolyn took me to the local clinic in Leucate. She speaks a little French. The doctor spent thirty minutes  asking questions and listening to my chest. He then said I had asthma prescribed an inhaler and charged me 30 Eur0s ($40). I filled the prescription, took a puff, and didn’t have another sleepless night. I had spent hundreds in the USA for x-rays and antibiotics and repeat trips to a doctor who spent 5 minutes, prescribed antibiotics, and sent me for another test. Beathe in. Breathe out. Move on.

Back to the USA vs Springboks match

The mood was jovial and the billtong (South African venison jerky) was flowing. One of the South Africans was Riann Van Zyl (sp?) – a former Seattle rugger and US Eagle. He played for the USA in the 2003 World Cup. He assured me the Eagle side was better than the side in 2003.  The US side (although not able to defensively adjust to South Africa’s quick ball recycling and exceptional ball handling) played valiantly and earned considerable applause and respect from the predominantly South African crowd. Taku Ngwenya’s outside-inside-outside fake that left the incredible Springbok winger Brian Habana slapping air as he dived for Taku’s heals was a sensational moment enjoyed by all. It would go on to become the “IRB Try of the Year”. With 5 minutes to go we fought the tide of leaving bodies and headed pitch side for a close-up spot to watch the teams take their post match walks around the field. The USA proudly accepted the well deserved applause of the crowd. A couple of players sent their socks via security guards to pretty French girls along the rail. And as the p.a. system cranked up The Boss’s “Born in the USA,” the Eagles turned the last corner of the pitch and joined the stadium crowds applause for the Springboks.

October 7th, 2007 Cardiff, Wales: France v New Zealand

Where to begin? With the slow farewell drive along the Mediterranean on the way to Perpignan Airport ?  With the 8 hour crawl through traffic around London two days ago? With the spectacular crossing of the Severn River and our welcome in Welsh and English into Wales? Or waking this morning to a new rugby world order? France had managed to climb from the mud their loss to Argentina had stuck them in. They had done the impossible. Even if it took the luck of a ref overlooked forward pass, New Zealand should never have let it get so close that an overlooked forward pass could make the difference.

After catching up with old Welsh friends Celia and Huw Thomas (an outstanding Welsh back who I played with in Ecuador almost 30 years ago), we headed to the revitalized Cardiff Bay area to watch England v Australia. Eight years ago during the 99 World Cup, I stood in a Welsh crowd of 400 people watching England play New Zealand on a giant screen in a brewery’s courtyard . Besides my English wife, I saw only one other person silently cheering for England. Wales, a nation that outspokenly cheers first for Wales and then for any team playing the English, was for at least 90 minutes yesterday behind the English. Besides the odd Aussie in the pub, the bar was boisterously overjoyed at the English 12-10 victory. When you are with Huw in Cardiff, you get a real feel of walking among rugby legends. In the pub where we watched the England match, he pointed out Grant Fox (All Black stand-off from the lates 80¹s and 90¹s) standing next to us. Along the streets of Cardiff, he nudged me as we passed  legendary French winger Serge Blanco. And when you enter the Cardiff Rugby Club, you are surrounded by pictures of the great players through Welsh rugby history. 

 I had bought my ticket online back in February anticipating this would be an Irish-All Black clash. I joined the throng that was surging for the entrance gates of the majestic Millennium Stadium. The crowd seemed to be equally split between French and All Black supporters, with the odd splattering of green clad Irish supporters who had also purchased tickets for this quarterfinal long before Argentina squashed Ireland’s hopes for a spot in this quarterfinal showdown with New Zealand. The All Black supporters started out more vocal, but during the haka, the French side inched forward from the midfield line, curled around the world cup favorites and almost encircled the All Blacks. The French crowd gained confidence as they realized a repeat of the ¹99 World Cup semi-final was a real possibility. The cheer of “Les Bleus” grew in intensity through the evening and the chant of “All Blacks” faded away. After France’s 20-18 victory, I went pitch-side to watch the triumphal and farewell walks around the pitch of the French and All Blacks. The French took their lap, but the New Zealanders quickly disappeared down the changing room tunnel. I met up with my elated friends sitting among a dejected All Black supporting crowd in the Cardiff Rugby Club. Celia, who for over 30 years has seen the faces of many loosing ruggers and team supporters said, “I have never seen a defeated team so depressed. Grown men were crying. Others were in stunned silence.” Indeed sitting right next to us was an All Black supporter wiping away tears with his handkerchief. I was talking to Bob at the bar about how the All Blacks left the pitch without a farewell lap and how at all the pool matches I¹d seen where a team played their last match in the tournament, they had taken a farewell lap. I asked if they didn¹t do that in the knock-out rounds. Bob thought they usually did, but suggested I ask the distinguished looking All Black supporter standing next to us. So, I offered to buy the gentleman a pint and then asked the question. Mr. McCaw (All Black Captain Richie’s dad) wasn’t sure of the etiquette. It was a fantastic day capped by the harmonious voices of a Welsh choir resounding through the Cardiff RFC Pub

October 12th, 2007 Manchester, England: England v France

Today I’m sitting in a pub in Manchester sipping a pint of bitter. Tomorrow I’ll take the 3 hour train ride to London and find a lively pub to watch the England v France match. The English papers are spouting a fairly confident prediction of English victory after a hard match. There are lots of comparisons with the semi-final match 4 years ago in Australia when Jonny Wilkinson kicked France out of world cup contention during a heavy rain. The British bookies are not as confident. Odds for England to win are around 13 to 2. France is 6 to 4.  Sunday I’ll again settle into a London pub for South Africa v Argentina. Argentina is certainly the darling of the press here, but the bookies like South Africa at about 11 to 10.

October 21, 2007 New Orleans, USA: South Africa v England

A wedding invitation pulled me back to the USA before the Final.

I paid my $20 and crowded into the rich rugby atmosphere of Finn McCool’s to watch South Africa kick 5 penalties to England’s 2 to win the world cup. Certainly the best team won, but the complaints about how poor the match was will go on – and on. The day before Argentina and France put on a fantastic match. No one seemed to have told the players that nobody cared who came in 3rd place. There were only a handful of us in Finn McCool’s to witness this marvelous moment when Argentina vaulted over France into rugby’s first tier beating them twice during the world cup held in France.

My prediction of French victory and 2 USA victories proved delusional. The French did manage the impressive feat of beating the All Blacks and the Eagles came within a whisker of  beating Samoa. Personally the experience was “Fantastique”! I’ve already started planning for 2011 in New Zealand.