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Rugby Team Making Annual Playoff Run

Springfield squad plays in Sweet 16 for third time in the last four years.

By Allen Vaughan News-Leader May 2002

With most of Springfield's spring sports seasons coming to a close, some are advancing in the postseason and some are going home.

There is one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Springfield has a rugby team —- and they’re good.

The Springfield Rugby Football Club has advanced to the Sweet16 of the USA National Division II Championships for the third time in the last four years. The Sweet 16 is located in Sacramento, Calif., and the SRFC will face the Connecticut Yankees today.

Last weekend the SRFC scored a third-place finish in the Western Territorial Championships. The Western Territory spans east from the Mississippi River to the west side of Colorado and south from Canada to Mexico.

“It’s quite a large area, with a lot of teams included,” SRFC president Rhett Smillie said. “We're proud to be one of the best.”

With there being a lack of outlets for rugby in Springfield, the sport itself is somewhat mysterious.

“A lot of people think we are the knuckle-draggers who drink beer and then go play,” Smillie said. “It used to be that way, but not anymore. This is serious competition and it takes serious training to be competitive.”

Fifteen players play per side at one time. The object is to get the ball grounded past the goal line, similar to football. Then you may attempt a kick — similar to football —- from a line perpendicular to the goal line. The “touchdown” is worth five and the kick two points.

With so many players on the field at once, it is no surprise that rugby is regarded truly as a team sport. “Rugby is not an individual sport at all,” SRFC head coach Melan Mudgway said. “One of the great things about it is, you could start out as quarterback and end up a defensive tackle bringing the ball carrier down,” Smillie said.

Twenty eight players from the club will make the trip to Sacramento, with ages ranging from 19 to 38.

“Basically our recruiting comes from word of mouth,” Smillie said. “It’s the greatest sport I’ve ever played and I know the rest of the guys feel the same way.”

Mudgway, a native of New Zealand, actually coached the Fresno club that defeated the SRFC in last year’s playoffs. After some differences of opinion, he decided to terminate his involvement with the Fresno club and ended up in Springfield. “It was the best move I could have made,” he said. “This is a great bunch of guys.”

One of the ways the SRFC separates itself from its competitors is its facilities. In April of 2000, the SRFC acquired 10 acres of land which they now call the Pitch. The land can be located off Farm Road 144 in Brookline. It is near the U.S. 60 extension and will give them additional exposure once it is opened. “Only two percent of the 1,500 organized rugby clubs in the U.S. have their own field,” SRFC player Bryan Bevel said. “Most play at the community center or a local park.”



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