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.