The United States National Rugby Team storms into Charleston
The United States National Rugby Team stormed into Charleston on Thursday, Aug. 8, an entire week earlier than Rugby Canada is expected to arrive in South Carolina.
On Friday evening at The Citadel, The Eagles wasted no time suiting up for a five-period practice match against Life Chiropractic College from Atlanta, one of America’s elite rugby clubs.
On the pitch, coach Mike Tolkin switched players in and out to give different lineups a chance to run the rugby ball, test set plays and work on scrum and lineout ball in Charleston’s August heat. In the last two periods, Tolkin selected five top Charleston Rugby Team players to put on a USA jersey and scrimmage for 15 or 20 minutes against Life College.
None of Charleston’s local lads knew when they woke up that day that they would get a taste of the ultimate prize: Putting on a USA Rugby jersey and playing with the Eagles. Even if it was only a scrimmage match, locals Ernest Houston, Carlton Atwell, Ryan Whittow, Johnny Bryant and Chris Sigmund each agreed that the pace, ferocity and communication of rugby at the international level is so much different than your average high-level rugby match.
But that’s how USA Rugby rolls during match build-up week. Inclusive, local player-focused and fan friendly – and all about growing the sport of rugby in America.
I spoke with Mike Petri, veteran scrum half for the Eagles, after the Citadel warm-up match: “When 20,000 fans showed up in the Texas stadium cheering for us against Ireland, our players became so pumped up on the field... we’d never seen anything like it. In Los Angeles, though – our match vs. Tonga a few weeks later – support for America there was very low. We were so deflated. One reason we like coming back to South Carolina [Charleston] is because the patriotism here is over-the-top for America. The vibe here for rugby and the USA is incredible.”
I also spoke with USA Rugby head coach Mike Tolkin after the match, who reiterated how hospitable, welcoming and USA-supportive the entire Southeast is for rugby. “Americans love a hard-hitting, hard-fought match, no matter what the sport. Rugby happens to be the hardest-hitting team sport in the world.”
Aside from tactical decisions and strategic plays that cannot be reported, coach Tolkin strategically made it a point to get his Eagles roster assembled and on the ground here in Charleston a full week prior to the Canadians, so all USA players could get acclimated to Charleston’s mid-August heat and humidity. “The ball and the match can become extremely slippery in hot, humid conditions – it’s a factor both teams must face down here. We decided to get a head start and we so love being in Charleston.”