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Springfield - With a Little Welsh Help - Runs Off With St. Louis Royals Tourney Title

The final of the St. Louis Royals Fall Tournament pitted the host Royals against perennial contender Springfield. The two clubs have clash countless times in the 17-year history of the tournament, but not in the championship match for quite some time.

“We have not been in the final for about seven or eight years,” said senior Royals member and tournament director Rich Burress. “The Springfield team we just lost to has actually won it quite a few times, but not for a while, so this year was kind of a return to the championship for them.”

Before meeting in the final, Springfield and the Royals breezed through the 12-team field, defeating their opponents by a combined score of 118-23. The final started off very competitive, with the host Royals getting on top early with an impressive try and missed conversion. However, they would not register any more points in the contest, and Springfield would out-stride the Royals on their way to a 20-5 victory.

Springfield received some help on the weekend in the form of an acting coach and three players from their sister club in Wales - The Pill Harriers. “Sure, we had a couple more experienced players on the pitch, but the American players played well,” said acting coach Andrew Baines, who used to be Springfield’s full-time coach 10 years ago.

While Baines admits the addition of the three Welsh players certainly played a part in Springfield’s victory, he won’t take anything away from Springfield’s fulltime players. “It’s mostly teamwork, because the boys are quite young,” said Baines. “A lot of them haven’t been coached properly or played for more than one or two years. Basically, they’re just very hard. They’re hard boys. Not the fittest bunch, but hopefully over the next couple weeks, we’ll get them fit. It’s all about heart. Either you’ve got it or you haven’t got it. The two teams they played last were bigger players. Probably more experienced as well.”

While this weekend wasn’t the first go-round in an American rugby tournament for Baines, he expressed a lot of respect for American rugby players, especially those at the lower DII and DIII

“It’s brilliant. I know the sacrifices you make. The insurances are different over here as well,” said Baines. “I love the tournaments. We don’t have tournaments like these in Wales. We just have leagues. I’ve seen friends here today that I haven’t seen in 10 years. (Wales) has bigger and better leagues, but you’re more enthusiastic. To me, traveling three, four, five hours is insane, but you do it.”

While there was no shortage of St. Louis area teams in this weekend’s field (Royals, STL Hornets, STL Ramblers, Sunday Morning RFC and Washington University), several teams traveled a noteworthy distance to take part in the two-day tournament - Kansas Jayhawks, University of Northern Iowa, Kansas City Rogues, Springfield, Wichita and Little Rock.

The Kansas Jayhawks went home as champions of the consolation bracket, defeating the STL Hornets 22-12. The Jayhawks only loss came to the Royals on day one, and the college/men’s hybrid team walked away with some valuable experience.

“We’re kind of a unique club, and we basically have a big umbrella we incorporate our high school, college, men’s open sides and everybody else under,” said senior club member Grant Lechtenberg. “Any time we can get our younger guys out playing against some experienced players, they’re going to learn something from that. All these guys did. A lot of these guys are 18, 19 years old on our team today, and they all learned from that. They loved playing up to that level. Nobody backed down from it. Nobody was scared of it, and they definitely learned a lot from it.”

This year marked the 17th edition of the Royals Fall Tournament, and despite what one may conclude from its unrelenting consistency, the club isn’t running the tournament as a fundraiser. “This is my 12th year, and when I took over, I was told we don’t do the tournament to make money,” said tourney director Rich Burrus. “The tournament has never really made money. If we make a hundred or lose a hundred, that’s our goal financially. The whole weekend is just based on trying to have a good rugby time - socially and competitive wise…It’s just a good social time around the fields. When the teams come off, they’re done for the day, we just hang around and share stories for a while.  That’s pretty much what we do the tournaments for.”

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