PRO Rugby Sacramento – Bringing caps to the Cap
By Chelsea Irvine & Jamee Villa
Sacramento spring afternoons are about to get a lot hotter. April 17th marks the beginning of the inaugural season for the Professional Rugby Organization, or PRO Rugby. Sacramento’s squad will be taking to the pitch at Bonney Field in their first match against San Francisco. Do we sense a rivalry forming?
Known to many as the “gentlemen’s game”, rugby is a lot more than toned physiques and short shorts. (Although we aren’t mad at either of those facts.) New to rugby? Now is the time to get hip with the rules and meet your new favorite ruggers. Sacramento players hail from all around the globe including Italy, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Canada, as well as here locally, with a handful of homegrown Sacramentans.
But before we introduce you to the newest crop of #SMEBB candidates, lets chat background.
PRO Rugby has an interesting story. The league was created by CEO Doug Schoninger after years of discussion and planning. Schoninger has worked with professional sports teams to finance stadium construction and renovation throughout the country and had an idea to create a rugby league to capitalize on the rapid growth of the sport in the US. (For great background check out this in-depth article about the league’s beginnings).
Rugby has always been huge on island nations like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, as well as in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but has remained until recently in the shadows of American football, baseball and basketball. However, surveys have shown the sport has grown upwards of 80% in the last five years.
Not to mention that Northern California now boasts more rugby teams per capita than any other area in the US.
For the first time since 1924, rugby will even be featured in the summer Olympics. However, don’t expect the same game being played at Bonney: Olympic rugby is actually the “Sevens” version of the game, with seven member teams and seven minute halves, rather than the fifteen player game our boys will be playing.
As for the new PRO Rugby league, the first season there will be five teams: Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver and Columbus, Ohio. The season is set for ten games, five home and five away. Sacramento’s home games will be on Sundays at Bonney Field, also home to our Sacramento Republic. Games will be live-streamed, although there is no contract for televised games as of yet. The season is contracted for three years with the hopes of expanding nationwide and into Canada. There is no doubt after the sellout crowds at every Republic game, that Sacramento fans will show up in massive numbers to cheer on our rugby squad.
We caught up with Coach Luke Gross and a few players recently to learn their thoughts on Sacramento’s rugby future and what we can expect from our newest sports team.
Coach Gross has an impressive career of his own, with over 60 “caps” or international matches played. Coach Gross has worked in coach and player development since leaving his career as a player, and has coached the Women’s Rugby World Cup team for the USA, as well as our Men’s National A Team, collegiate All-Americans and our Under 20 National men ‘s team. He brings that international and professional expertise to Sacramento in the hopes of creating a championship team.
What would he like to say to Sacramento fans? “Come out, give it a go. Bring someone new, introduce them to the game. If you’re new to the game come out and enjoy and keep an open mind.” Not one to forget the details, he mentioned that you’ll also enjoy the game, “If you’re a lady that likes hot guys in tiny shorts.”
A nod to their commitment to supporting our community, the team is doing strength and conditioning workouts at local gym Innovative Strength and Conditioning with coaches Toraino Singleton and Austin Gwaltney.
“These guys leave everything they have on the field and in the gym,” said Singleton. “The game means the world to them and you can see that commitment every day.’
Sacramento is now home to one of the sport’s most well-known players, Mirco Bergamasco. Nearly 90 caps in his career, Mirco has played the sport since he was six years old, and has been the star of teams in his home country of Italy, as well as in France. This is the first time Mirco will be playing on US soil and he is very excited to start this next chapter in his rugby career.
“This is the beginning of professional rugby in Sacramento,” he told us. “It is going to grow, so be patient… Come to the stadium to have fun with us. We will have fun on the field and you’ll have fun in the stadium.”
Garrett Brewer grew up in Sacramento and is following in his father’s rugby footsteps. His dad has played the sport for decades and even plays in an over 60’s league. Garrett went to school at El Camino and played for Saint Mary’s in the Bay Area.
Garrett’s advice for Sacramentans new to the sport? “Sit with someone that knows rugby. It is very fast paced filled with a lot of action. And there are lots of short shorts.”
Are we sensing a pattern here?
You’ll notice Irishman John Quill sports a taped wrist at every game, even though he no longer has the wrist injury that required taping. He got into the habit after an injury in the gym and still wraps before each match, writing “EGAG” on it: every game a gift. It’s a good reminder to appreciate every game and all the sport has done for him and his teammates.
“Enjoy the spectacle,” John said to Sac fans. “It’s going to be fast paced. Enjoy the atmosphere.”
To keep up with Sacramento’s ruggers, follow them on Facebook and Instagram and make sure to download their schedule and get your tickets today. Our GOTG crew will be out there for opening day and all the matches, and we hope to see you there.
For those who need a rugby primer, check out the basic rules of the game video below! Don’t worry, you’ll catch on at your first match.
Rules of Rugby:
- Rugby is made up of two 40 minute halves.
- Rugby players wear “boots” on their feet similar to cleets.
- Rugby is a sport where you cannot throw the ball forward. The ball only goes backward or lateral.
- A Ruck evolves from a tackle situation and creates offside lines.
- When the ball is trapped by two players you re-start play with a Scrum.
- A Scrum is like a face-off in Hockey or jump ball in basketball, it restarts the game after the puck or balls gets trapped.
- Kicking for touch is the same as punting in Football.
- Tackling is the same in Football but Rugby has rules to protect its players.
- You must attempt to wrap your arms around the ball carrier and it must be under the shoulders.
Scoring is as follows:
- Try/Penalty Try-5 points
- Conversion (Kick) 2 points
- Penalty Goal-3 points
- Drop Goal-3 points