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Summer 7s

The families reuniting on a cloudy, soggy, late spring afternoon were sister rugby teams. The Springfield Rugby Football Club, from right here in southwest Missouri, hosted the Pill Harriers Rugby Football Club, from Newport in South Wales, for nearly six days of float trips, cookouts, skeet shoots and rugby.

Those fans that braved the muddy grounds Saturday were treated to a spirited match that saw Pill Harriers pile up a big second half en route to a 61-7 win. Pill Harriers, a second-division club back home, showed off their advanced skill level, breaking on top 15-0 early - thanks to a pair of tries and a penalty kick by Brendan Lampitt - then striking for seven tries in the second half.

Springfield notched one try on the day, midway through the first half. That cut the lead to 15-7 and left the Pill boys visibly frustrated before a late try gave them a 22-7 lead at the break.

"They're top-notch, as they kind of showed in the score," said Springfield's Greg Hicks. "It's a little different style of rugby than we play in America, but you just have to adapt. They're definitely a top-level club."

The final score, however, wasn't enough to put a damper on the day.

"I'm pleased with the crowd, very disappointed in the way we played," said Springfield RFC president David "Scoop" Thornton. "Not to take anything away from the Pill Harriers, because they played a very good match.

"We're glad the rain held off. We just finished our new pavilion here this week and we had a nice crowd and we appreciate the support. It's an opportunity for a lot of people who haven't seen rugby to do so."

Rugby, though, is only part of the story. The main storyline is the long friendship between the clubs.

The two clubs got to know each other back in 1985, when the Kansas City Blues went on a tour of the United Kingdom and invited a few members of the fledgling Springfield club to go along. That introduction led to Pill Harriers touring the United States two years later, where they met Springfield RFC on the pitch. Springfield was victorious that day - the only American club to defeat Pill on that tour - and the bond they formed has lasted since then.

But it's not just all about Rugby.

"That was our first contact and the relationship kind of grew from there," said Pill Harriers' Tony "Snowy" Howells. "It goes back a long way and it's real, real tight. We call them our sister club and on our Web site we have a link to our 'Sister Club Across the Pond.' I've got some great friends here. I come over for weddings. Likewise, a lot of the Springfield boys come over to us, play in our team over in Wales and stay with us. Some of them stay there for six months. We're just real, real tight."

Howells credits the personalities on the Springfield side as the main reason the two clubs have gotten along so well.

"The first thing has got to be the people. They're so like us in so many ways, in their attitude and their outlook on life. They're so relaxed and very, very friendly. Their hospitality is beautiful. It's all based around that personal stuff."

"There's a few (Pill) boys that come over in between tours, and it really builds relationships with them," said Hicks. "They take care of us when we're there and we take care - as best we can - of them when they're here. It builds such a great camaraderie that I don't even know how to explain it. You can't really explain it unless you're a part of it. You don't know the feelings."

Hicks knows those feelings well. He was not only part of hosting Pill Harriers on this tour, but he's also toured Wales twice himself.

"It was spectacular," Hicks said. "We got to travel around, see all the sights and hang out with the boys. We also got to practice and play and just take it all in. It's a short time. I was over for two weeks the second time and it's still not enough time to take everything in. It's just unbelievable."

Hicks said he and his teammates use these tours to help their level of play on the rugby pitch, picking the brains of their Welsh counterparts for tips and tricks.

"They started the game (in Wales), and we're trying to learn it and make it our own," he said. "We try to send as many young players there to get into trainings, play a few matches. We try to learn, come back and evolve our game."

Saturday's match was just one small part of Pill Harriers' 2007 USA Tour. The club flew into St. Louis last week, where - among the usual sightseeing and recreation - they defeated the St. Louis Ramblers 43-25. After a day of R-and-R in the Lake of the Ozarks area, the Pill Harriers headed south to Springfield for nearly six days of activities that included a cook-out, a float trip, a skeet shoot, boating on Table Rock Lake and a banquet. The Pill Boys are scheduled to depart for Wales today.

The reunion, Thornton said, was as much fun as they'd anticipated. No, it seems, everybody's thinking about a return trip to Wales.

"We'd like to," said Thornton. "Next year's our 25th anniversary, so we'll see what happens."

"I need to speak with some of their senior guys to try and set that up," said Howells. "We're getting ready for that already."

"It's going to take a lot of planning and effort on our part, but we've definitely got it in the works," Hicks added with a grin.



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