The eight Rugby World Cup kicks off this Friday with 20 teams competing over the following five weeks to be crowned World Champions. The four-yearly tournament starts with hosts England taking on Fiji at noon with the game being shown at Compadres Rio Grill on Lincoln Avenue in Napa.
Compadres owner Rick Enos is a huge rugby fan having played the game in his formative years and says of the tournament “I am very excited about the up-coming Rugby World Cup and the opportunity to stream most of the matches live, even if it means a few early morning openings!” With an eight-hour time difference between the West Coast and the UK some of the games will be starting at 4:30am here in Napa. Enos plans to show as many of the games as possible that start early in the morning local time and will be offering two breakfast specials – Traditional Huevos Rancheros and Eggs “as you like them” with Crispy Bacon, Fiesta Rice, and toast with vegemite! Call Compadres at (707) 253-1111 to confirm game schedule.
The live games at Compadres have been arranged by Australian Tim Irwin, a member of the coaching team of the Napa Stormers youth rugby club and an ex-captain of the Napa Valley Cricket Club. Irwin is a lover of both games and explained that in other parts of the world rugby is generally a winter sport and is often played by the same teams as cricket, a summer sport. “You’ll find that in Australia almost everyone plays cricket in the summer and then in the winter plays their favorite “other” sport. Depending on where they’re from that “other” sport could be rugby, Aussie Rules Football or soccer. Being from Sydney rugby is in my blood and I’m looking forward to Wallabies bringing home the trophy in a few weeks”
20 teams will compete for the RWC trophy known as the Webb Ellis trophy after the man credited with inventing the game of rugby, William Webb Ellis. Interestingly in the seven previous World Cups there have only been fours winners. Three from the southern hemisphere – New Zealand (1987 & 2011), Australia (1991 & 1999), South Africa (1995 & 2007) – and one from the northern hemisphere – England (2003). The USA team known as the “Eagles” has competed in every previous RWC with the exception of the 1995 tournament in South Africa. While rugby has a large playing base in the USA the Eagles have never made it out of the pool into the quarter-final stage with only two teams from each of the pools of five making it to that stage. The Eagles are currently ranked 15th in the world.
Rugby will be getting plenty of global media attention beyond the RWC with the sport making it’s first appearance at the Olympics since 1924 in Rio de Janeiro. The format for rugby in Rio will be “sevens” with seven players per team as opposed to the traditional 15. This makes for a faster game with lots of scoring and with the game consisting of two halves of seven minutes – as opposed to two 40-minute halves in the 15-a-side format – the game is over quickly! Interestingly the USA are technically the reigning Olympic rugby champions having won the gold medal at the 1924 games in Paris, beating France in the final!
While many consider rugby to be a minority sport played by ex-pats it has a strong following amongst Americans, many of whom played the game in college. Locally UC Berkeley is considered the strongest college rugby team in the USA having won 26 total championships out of possible 32 since the national collegiate championship for rugby began in 1980. Both the men’s and women’s rugby program at Cal regularly produce players who play for the national team.
Closer to home in the Napa Valley there are many opportunities to learn about and play rugby. One of the longest established gatherings for rugby happens in St. Helena on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the summer months and Wednesday and Sunday in the winter. A casual group who play “touch rugby” which is equivalent to flag football welcome everyone – men, women and children. The group was started by a group of rugby starved ex-pats and under the leadership of South African born Dave “Doc” Gold, owner of the St. Helena Vet Hospital, has grown to a strong community based group that has brought rugby to the local Boys & Girls Club and is working on a winter youth touch rugby league. You can get in touch with the St. Helena Old Boys RFC on their Facebook Group page here –
For those a little more competitive about their rugby there are now thriving options for both adults and teenagers with the Napa Valley Rugby Football Club (NVRFC) and Napa Stormers offering club rugby.
NVRFC, nicknamed the Wine Thieves, who play their rugby at Kennedy Park are the third coming of an adult rugby team in Napa. Previous efforts that grew from ex-Napa Valley College football players were successful in both the early 70’s and 90’s and while they enjoyed local league success they eventually fizzled out. In 2013, a new version of Napa Valley rugby was formed and just as their predecessors, they found immediate success. With a rag-tag team made up of men aged from 18 to 56, NVRFC has quickly galvanized and boasts a 13-3 record since inception.
As player numbers have grown quickly, NVRFC has introduced a second side and will now compete in D3 as well as D4 next year to ensure enough game time for everyone that wants to play. “We certainly have a special group,” says player / coach & team captain Paul Hughes. “We have kids that just got out of high school playing next to guys who have just retired from their job. We have international winemakers from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Fiji playing with and teaching our recent HS grads and college guys. Throw in a bunch of local grizzled vets with some recent D1 college grads, and we’ve got not only a great rugby team, but more importantly, a great Rugby Club.” continues Hughes “The ‘Club’ is the most important aspect of the sport as good players come and go, as do good teams, but good clubs sustain the test of time, mainly because the focus of a good club is on its community. With success comes numbers, with numbers you have a work force that can make a positive impact in the community.” NVRFC is currently working with the Blood Bank of the Redwoods to establish at least 3 blood drives throughout the valley over the holiday season and is planning to work with the local fire department and City of Napa to fill sand bags if needed during this El Nino winter season.
The long term goal for the NVRFC club is to coordinate with all levels of community and be a force for good, as well as working with the Napa Stormers HS program and develop a sustainable 8-10 year olds & 10-12 year olds flag rugby league, as well as getting rugby 101 onto the middle school PE curriculum. The Napa Valley RFC is a community organization open to everyone regardless of age, size, experience, or ability and they are always looking for rugby enthusiasts or “social members”. They are also currently looking for any women rugby players interested in starting a Napa Valley Women’s Rugby club.
NVRFC runs casual touch rugby training every Thursday evening from 6-8 pm at Kennedy Park on Streblow Dr. for more info please call (707)732-6255 or email NapaValleyRFC@yahoo.com.
The Napa Stormers were formed in 2012 in response to growing demand for youth rugby in the Napa Valley. With rugby now the fastest growing sport in the USA the Stormers have grown from an initial base in 2012 of one JV and one Varsity team to fielding three teams in the 2015 season which runs from January to April. In addition to competing in the Northern California Youth Rugby Association league the Stormers Varsity team tours each season and destinations have included Santa Barbara and Las Vegas to date.
The Stormers attract players from the length of the Napa Valley with players from American Canyon to Calistoga playing for the club and each year have been successful in reaching both play-offs and final in the leagues in which they compete. For anyone interested in playing with the Stormers they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The British American Business Council recently hosted a star-studded event in San Francisco called the Rise Of Rugby. A couple of the panelists at this event visited the Napa Valley and spent time tasting wine with Scottish winemaker Robin Akhurst of Swanson Vineyards in Oakville. Paul Wallace who played for Ireland and Gavin Hastings a Scottish rugby legend were treated to some great Napa Valley wine mixed in with some banter about the “auld sod.”