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Rugby Contests Forge Friendships

Kai Raymer

June 28, 2009News-Leader

Twelve teams gather near Brookline for the Summer 7's Tournament.

During halftime of one of his games, a beaten and tired Brian Meyer had a thought come to his mind.

"I asked myself, 'Why am I still doing this?' "said the 35-year-old Meyer, who plays for the St. Louis Bombers.

He quickly realized the answer to his own question. It was a common response for veterans: The sport is hard to give up because you're playing with (and against) friends.

"The main thing is all the friendships and relationships that I have through the sport," Meyer said. "Those are hard to leave behind. This may be my last year because my body is giving out, but it'll be hard to decide that."

So despite the sweltering heat, Meyer was one of numerous players partaking in the Springfield Rugby Football Club's Summer 7's Tournament near Brookline on Saturday.

The tournament featured 12 teams, including squads from Arkansas, Kansas City and Newport, South Wales.

Although most players involved ranged in age from 20 to early 30s, there were a few older rugby players who couldn't be kept off the pitch regardless of their age.

For 40-year-old Bryan Wilson, who played college football for two years and is on the Springfield team, the sport gives him a social and competitive fix.

"It's all about the camaraderie," said Wilson, a self-employed design engineer. "I love to just lay a big hit on someone. It's a great feeling. But in this sport, after you do that, everything stays on the field and you shake their hand afterwards."

Wilson said that rugby has allowed him to see the world. He's been to places such as Texas, Rhode Island and Wales for tournaments.

But will he ever realize it's time to stop playing?

"I'm not sure," Wilson said. "I've had two knee surgeries, but I think I have a few more years left in me. I know the time for me to quit will come... I just don't think it's now."

Andrew Baines, 40 and a player-coach for the Pill Harriers team from South Wales, plans on this being his final season as a player.

"This is my last year - I think," Baines said. "The enjoyment is hard to give up. Everyone becomes your friend."

For the tournament, Springfield split into two sides -- a team of younger players and a team that was called the "old boys."

Stacey Thornton might be 43 years old, but that didn't stop him from being on the Springfield team comprising mainly young players.

"It's just a passion and obsession," said Thornton, a contractor for a local lumber company.

"It gets in your blood and you meet great people that become your friends. A person on the team once told me, 'Look around you. Your teammates will be the guys at your funeral."

While the sport itself is extremely physical, a big part of the rugby culture is that nothing carries over once the game ends.

"After you play a team, you're probably on the side of the field having a beer with them," Thornton said.



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