San Diegans may be more familiar with Rugby shirts than the game of rugby, but that may change. San Diego is a hotbed of serious rugby players and rugby sevens has been included in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Four high school players from San Diego County have already gotten a taste of international play. Ian Crilly, a senior at Fallbrook High School, Owen Duvall, a junior at Cathedral Catholic, Ryan James, a sophomore at Cathedral Catholic, and Patrick Madden, a sophomore at University City High School, just returned from a trip to Europe, where they participated in three Under 17 games as members of the Boy’s High School All-American (BHSAA) team.
The team, which included the best under 17 high school players from throughout the country, won two matches against Belgium and lost one match to France.
“The competition was a real eye opener. It enlightens our kids to a level of rugby they’d never see domestically. By doing that, it really benefits those who have the capabilities to move upwards,” said BHSAA Head Coach Salty Thompson.
“Our focus is on development, so when you bring 28 players you want to give every kid the opportunity to show, to do his best,” Thompson said. “We believe that these players will get better given the opportunity or we wouldn’t have brought them, so we’re going to give them the chance to play,” he said.
“These young men are the first generation of American rugby players who have played since they were in grade school,” said Joe Madden, who traveled with the team to Europe. “Since that is the level of training that most rugby players around the world receive, these athletes represent America’s best hope for future success.” The boys train relentlessly, up to five days a week.
Leading up to this, players had to qualify for the San Diego Regional All-Stars and then the Southwestern USA regional All-Stars or “Griffins” team, which culminated in an All-Star tournament in Portland, Oregon last July that included the best representative players from the Western United States.
Madden’s son Patrick started playing when he was seven and has been team captain six out of the eight years he’s been playing. He and the other boys have their eyes on representing the United States during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Although the U.S. is considered a second-tier contender, a good showing at the 2020 Olympics is not so far-fetched. When rugby was played as a men’s medal sport at four of the first seven modern Olympic competitions, the United States was a rugby powerhouse, winning two Gold Medals. With luck, perseverance and determination, Owen, Ryan, Ian and Patrick may reinstitute America’s prowess.
— Barbara Metz
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