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Get rough and tumble with rugby

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By Dan Johnson

CONIFER — Break your opponent, then break bread together.

That, in a nutshell, describes the scene one would view if attending a high school Rugby game.

The action on the field - which at times appears as a mix of soccer and football - is definitely intense. Players (15 on each side) wear no pads and take plenty a pounding, either in the middle of the scrum, or when trying to break a long run down the sidelines.

Once the final whistle is blown, the on-field action may be over, but that doesn’t mean the two teams are through with each other.

Unlike most traditional sports where opposing teams quickly filter off into separate locker rooms or buses, rugby teams, that just minutes prior were engaged in a tense struggle, gather together and share a meal.

The home team is typically responsible for providing the food and beverage. On April 9 at Conifer High School, the PAC Rugby team, comprised of players from Platte Canyon, Conifer and Evergreen high schools, treated its visitors from Regis to a good, old-fashioned cookout.

Even with the temperature dropping and fluffy snowflakes falling, the players didn’t seem to mind and scarfed down their hamburgers and hot dogs with delight.

“It’s that sense of community that you get here that you don’t necessarily get in other sports,” said PAC coach, Hugh Miller. “Once the kids get together after the game, they realize they often times have a lot in common.”

The beauty of rugby (which is nearing its silver anniversary in Colorado) is that anyone can play. The sport attracts everyone from football players to kids who don’t play any other organized sports. You don’t have to be a great athlete (although having strength and speed certainly helps) to contribute in Rugby, you just have to have a commitment to the team and a willingness to learn.

“We have kids that started with no idea what Rugby was,” said Miller, who added that the PAC Rugby team began in 1999. “But once they get in, they usually get hooked and wind up playing well after they finish high school.”

Miller said that the current PAC team has 34 players on its roster and that interest in the sport is growing. There’s even been discussion of adding girls rugby as a CHSAA-sanctioned sport in the near-future.

PAC Rugby captain, Joey Hennessey, says the non-stop action of Rugby drew him to the sport.

“You have to react quick,” said Hennessey, a senior at Conifer High School who played on the football team. “You have to have a lot of discipline and brain power to play this sport.

“That’s what makes it so much fun. People think it’s all about hitting (your opponent). That’s a part of it but the strategy involved is something that makes every game different.”

Then there’s the food.

“It’s a great tradition,” said longtime Regis coach, Dan O’Leary, whose team won the April 9 game 22-5. They won the state championship last year. “It’s fun to compete on the field and then share stories and food afterwards.”