YUMA, Ariz. --
“Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” – Winston Churchill
Strength through pain, salvation through suffering, and order through brutality are all ideas Marines are intimately familiar with. These are also themes the popular burgeoning sport of rugby demands of its participants every time the ball is in play.
On Saturday, a sunny day above a green field set the stage for the Arizona Rugby Union summer championship match between the hometown Yuma Sidewinders and visiting Prescott Blacksheep at Meyer’s Park aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.
“My first year in the Marine Corps, back in ’97, was when I learned rugby out in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. A couple of Samoans told me, ‘Hey, let’s go play some rugby,’ and I was like, ‘All right, let’s do this,’” said Warrant Officer Daniel Collins, the Sidewinder’s team president/head coach and a data systems maintenance officer with Marine Air Control Squadron 1. “We belong to the Arizona Rugby Union based out of Phoenix. So, a lot of the teams we play are civilian teams from up around the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff area.”
Founded by Marines stationed at MCAS Yuma in the early 80’s, the Sidewinders Rugby Football Club is made up of roughly 70 percent Marines, and 30 percent civilians. Over the decades, the team has been a staple in the local and military community, becoming an outlet for those looking to relieve some pent-up aggression through spirited competition.
“There’s a big team spirit in the club and what I really appreciate, in playing with Marines, is the big respect. With coaching, on orders, everyone listens to what we decide to do in our strategy,” said Sidewinder’s vice president Beau Beljean, a civilian member and a native of El Centro, Calif. “Most of the players did not know how to play rugby, so we had to go through a three-month period of teaching rugby; but everyone was respectful and willing to learn.”
Dating as far back as the 1800’s, the sport has had varying revivals in keeping with the same rules, traditions and standards spreading the world over. Fan bases range as far as the United Kingdom, Germany and France, to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. A growing surge of popularity in the United States has seen an increase in rugby participation by younger generations; including its recent inclusion into the upcoming 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Football was actually derived from rugby,” said Sidewinders outside center Lance Cpl. Anthony Brock, a Marine Air Control Squadron 1 aviation and communication systems technician and a native of Cleveland, Tenn. “The toughest part would be the cardio; you go from hitting, hitting and hitting to running up and down the field. It demands almost the same kind of cardio you would find in soccer or lacrosse.”
It’s easy to find the parallels between the physicality that rugby imposes on its players and the grinding agility stations of, for example, the annual Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test. Those Marines familiar with rugby all agree that, in the long run, the one can definitely compliment the other.
Their commitment leading up to the championship game found the Sidewinders practicing twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, after work at a local park. The undefeated Sidewinders attributed their success to game-specific exercises, routine dedication, and solid teamwork.
Light jogging and Marine Corps adopted dynamic-stretching exercises ensure a smart and ready line-up of gritty players against the familiar Blacksheep foes of Prescott, Ariz. The Sidewinders follow up their warm up exercises with a four corners drill – an ‘X’ formation, at the center of which two rugby balls are tossed back and forth between rotating players in an effort to re-establish the fundamentals of passing, catching and communication.
“When they mess up, they drop down and do push-up’s,” said Collins, a native of Fayetteville, W.Va., echoing a result all Marines are familiar with. “It’s just like any other team sport – if you make a mistake, the team pays for it.”
With an undefeated record of 6-0, the Sidewinders came into the game heavy favorites. This season has found the team scoring around 360 points, with their opponents only managing about 20. The championship game played out in much the same way, with the Sidewinders dominating through the dogged determination and fight of the Blacksheep.
“The final score?” asked one spectator.
“A lot to zero!” answered another.
The ultimate lessons learned, however, go far beyond a scoreboard. Qualities like love of the game, character development, growing ties with the community, building friendships, and volunteer time, are the things that pay the ultimate dividends in the minds of club members.
“Rugby also promotes decision making, which can really transfer into your military job; it can transfer into your everyday life,” said Collins, who has taken the sport with him the last 16 years from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to Cherry Point, N.C., Charlottesville, N.C., and now Yuma. “When you’re out in the field, it’s not like you can press pause or call time and go to the coach to figure out the next play; you really have to do everything out on the field and you have to make decisions as a player.”
While it is true that rugby is a heavy-handed sport with an unforgiving nature, misconceptions shouldn’t deter those interested in strapping up. Fundamentals and textbook tackling is stressed much more in the sport of rugby than in football, where spearing and leading with one’s head often leads to poor-technique related injuries.
Rugby is a Marine Corps sanctioned sport with benefits far exceeding just those on the field. Serving as an outlet for the everyday grind of Corps life, Marines bond and come together beyond rank and 24/7 structure.
“You have time to bond with your buddies; it gets you out of your barracks room instead of just being locked away all the time,” said Sidewinders weak-side wing Lance Cpl. Jacob Rodriquez, an aviation and communications systems technician with MACS-1 and a native of Grand Prairie, Texas. “We’ve been to Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale – it’s healthy to get away from the base and just get out there to decompress, you know.”
This season ended with the Sidewinders undefeated streak intact. Next season, an inevitable move into division three rugby is on the horizon; along with plans to kick-start a youth rugby program.
For more information about the sport and participation, feel free to call the team at (928) 503-7196 or e-mail at email@example.com.