Rugby 101: History
An important characteristic of the game of rugby and one of the Utah Warriors’ core values is tradition. In homage to the tradition and legacy of the game, this week’s Rugby 101 is focused on history. We will discuss the history of rugby in general, Major League Rugby and rugby in Utah.
In the 1800s, variations of American rugby, football and soccer were played at universities on the East Coast. Rugby began to spread across the country from university to university in the second half of the century. However, the growth began to slow down after the emergence of American football.
Through the early 1900s, rugby continued to grow despite football. Between 1905 and 1913, rugby received more attention because football was receiving criticism for being too rough.
In 1924, a group of Stanford players traveled to Paris and beat France, winning an Olympic Gold Medal. They were initially denied entry into the country by customs officials and had to fight their way through a hostile crowd after the match. Rugby was then removed from the Olympics, and America reigned as Olympic champions until its reintroduction in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Today, the American passion and interest for rugby continues to grow and is beginning to match the world’s frenzy for the game. Therefore, the need for a professional outlet became clear.
MAJOR LEAGUE RUGBY
Major League Rugby began its efforts in 2017, and its first regular-season game launched on April 21, 2018 when the Houston SaberCats hosted the NOLA Gold in Houston. In the first 2018 season, the league was comprised of seven teams: Austin Gilgronis, Colorado Raptors, Houston SaberCats, NOLA Gold, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and yours truly, the Utah Warriors.
Rugby United New York and the Toronto Arrows, the league’s first Canadian team, joined for the 2019 season. Rugby ATL, Old Glory DC and the New England Free Jacks joined for 2020, bringing the league’s total up to 12 teams.
As of right now, 13 teams will make up the league in 2021, with the Colorado Raptors leaving and teams in Dallas and LA joining.
RUGBY IN UTAH
Rugby has a very rich and successful history in Utah. The state has proven time and time again that it breeds great rugby players. From the Utah youth rugby clubs to powerhouse college programs, Utah rugby’s presence continues with the Utah Warriors.
Utah Youth Rugby was created in 2010. It has grown rapidly in its 10-year run, expanding from a few teams to over 130 teams comprised of boys and girls of all age levels. Highland High School is a large part of Utah Youth Rugby and has a storied history. Coached and founded by Larry Gelwix, Highland has won 20 national high school championships and had a record of 418-10 at the time of Gelwix’s retirement in 2011.
The Utah Cannibals are an extension of Utah Youth Rugby as the Official Elite Select All-State team of boys and girls. These teams compete in events all over the country and around the world. Most recently, the Cannibal girls’ team won the national championship in 2018, and the boys won the 2018 Las Vegas Invitational 7s tournament.
Many of the youth that participate in Utah Youth Rugby find themselves representing their respective college rugby programs.
The University of Utah’s rugby program won the 2010 7s National Championship and has developed 27 All-Americans to the present date. The USA Eagles have called up many alumni of the program as well.
Brigham Young University’s rugby program has won 5 national championships and has 47 Collegiate All- Americans to their name. The program has also seen 9 alumni suit up for the USA Eagles.
With all of the talent and passion for rugby in Utah, it seemed fitting to grow the game in a professional setting, entering the Utah Warriors.
As one of Major League Rugby’s teams in 2018, the Warriors were 1 of 7 teams to battle for the first-ever MLR championship. Knowing full well that Utah is loaded with rugby talent, the Warriors look to fuse local talent with talent from around the country and also around the world. With over 9 countries represented and 14 Utahns included, the Warriors were more than prepared to become the elite of the 2020 season. The roster was comprised of individuals that hold many different levels of experience, from college rugby to international duties with their respective countries.
From the youth to the professional level, the potential to go even further with the sport of rugby is certain. With the steady rise of rugby’s popularity in the United States, the state of Utah can be proud to know that it is indeed an epicenter of rugby talent and that great things are to come with the MLR and Warriors.
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