Welcome back to our bi-weekly/monthly rugby sale-o-gram/sermonette. Even thought I tend to ramble incessantly, I really enjoy all of the positive feedback that I get from these mailings. My semi-periodical rant has grown exponentially, not only in the number of recipients, but also in depth of topic. What started as a weekly travelogue of Hooker Rugby Supply's touring adventures, has turned into a political/muckraking/state-of-the-game report. Well, I can assure you, rant enthusiasts, that I will try not to disappoint you this week.
The Aspen Ruggerfest (hosted by the Gentlemen of Aspen) is one of America's the most prestigious rugby tournaments. This year's event was low-lighted by an act of violence that will be remembered long after people have forgotten who won the event (Aspen - of course). Let me just state that I was not present to witness the event. However, like all good reporters, before placing fingers to keyboard, I talked to several direct observers, including Rugby Magazine publisher, Ed Hagerty, and one of the referees in attendance. The nameless Ref watched the events unfold through binoculars (which was probably a good idea.) What follows is the Reader's Digest version of what happened.
The Provo Steelers (formerly "Utah International," who were banned for life from US Rugby play) were playing the Denver Barbarians. About midway through the second half of a game being led by the Barbos, a knock-on occurred. For reasons unbeknownst to witnesses, some pushing/shoving/word exchange started. Before you knew it, four pockets of fighting erupted simultaneously. The next couple of minutes led to three arrests and the hospitalization of a couple of Denver players - the most serious injury being a broken orbital bone.
Witnesses described the Provo players (including reserves who came from the sideline) as organized wolf pack hunters. Groups of three Provo players would separate individual Barbo players to fight. My source described their tactics as something that was organized and almost seemed orchestrated. He didn't go so far as to say that Provo's actions were premeditated, but they definitely knew what they were doing when the street fight-esque attack began. Bruce Carter, from Southern California, wrote about violence associated with Islanders, saying that Polynesians take their heritage very seriously. Any attack, verbal or physical, on one of their teammates, is often considered an attack on their tribe, or race.
It was just a few months ago that I discussed this very topic (violence in the game). Coincidentally, one of the examples included players from the same area (Provo High School) who share a coach with the Provo Steelers. When you look at the ethnic make-up of American Rugby, the two smallest groups would be players of Polynesian descent, and those of African descent. By Polynesian, I am referring to players from Fiji, Samoa or the Kingdom of Tonga etc... That's where I'll be focusing my observations. For the most part, Polynesian rugby players are centered in the Pacific or Western Rugby unions. So, this discussion may not be relevant to those of you East of Dallas, but I hope you find it interesting nonetheless.
This morning I heard a statistic (I always take statistics with a grain of salt) that in the last 20 cases of reported rugby violence, every one involved at least one player of Polynesian descent. Does that mean that every Polynesian rugby player is prone to violence? Of course not! However, considering that Polynesian players make up a very small portion of the American rugby community, those numbers do reveal an alarming trend. Quite honestly, I don't have enough experience to make any hard assumptions about Islanders and Rugby violence. What I have personally witnessed lately is a, sometimes founded, and often misguided stereotype and prejudice against players of Polynesian descent. Unfortunately, due to the recent, aforementioned events, these perceptions are being perpetuated.
I was privileged, this past summer, to have the opportunity to watch the Euless (suburb of Ft. Worth) Tongans. Every tournament that they entered, for the most part, was incident-free. Any incident that happened during a game was every-day, garden-variety, heat-of-the-match flare-up. From what I witnessed, these Tongans showed themselves to be hard, fierce, and smart rugby players. Besides the occasional Deion Sanders-esque high step into the try zone, they were a class organization from top to bottom. I am even happier to report that many of the players from this past Summer season are now my teammates. Last night, one of my new compadres explained (not justified, just explained) it to me this way; because most Islanders have played Rugby all of their lives, they often love the sport as much as anyone would love their family. When they're losing a match, they almost feel as if one of their family members is being hurt, and that they have to defend them.
If instances of violence (as that of Aspen) continue, the overall perception of Islanders in American Rugby will continue to deteriorate. In many cases, American Rugby players and referees are already intimidated by Islanders. They are big, strong, skilled and they run with a reckless abandon from the first whistle to the last. Their fearless reputation has taken on a life of its own. In one particular tournament last summer, I had to play against the Euless Tongans twice. They pretty much batted us around like a cat plays with a wounded mouse. In the first match that we played, we were beat before we even took the field because of the aforementioned reputation. We met them again in the finals and realized that they were human. They still made us look silly, but we were fortunate enough to put a few tries on the board (the only tries scored on them in that tournament).
This article, and topic, could go on and on. Islanders are very family and tribe oriented. They don't tend to make friends easily with integrated teammates. I would like to see this change. I, for one, am proud to have them as teammates. Just like any other stereotype in America, when you pull down the fašade of ignorance, they are just people like you or I (tough people, that is).
Hooker Rugby Supply