LAFAYETTE, Colo. – College rugby players spend their summer months in a diverse number of ways. Many stay near campus in order to chip away at their curriculum by taking summer classes. Others prioritize internships to earn professional experience. In terms of rugby, the best domestic competition to be found is on a senior club team with serious aspirations of qualifying for the Aug. 12-13 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship. Better yet, some D1A players immerse themselves in rich rugby cultures overseas in hopes of making great strides as an overall player prior to the upcoming season.
California Conference’s Cal Poly has a history of assisting its players secure rugby opportunities abroad. This summer, five Mustangs are in Australia absorbing all they can before Cal Poly’s 10-day tour to Scotland in September. Team captain Salvador Guevara, along with Sam Bradley, Connor Miller and Brandon Puccini, are currently on Australia’s Gold Coast training and earning match time with the Palm Beach Alleygators.
The fifth Mustang Down Under is prop Connor Cudeback. The two-time All-American is in the Australian Capital Territory playing for the Easts Rugby Club’s 1st-grade squad in the John I Dent Cup, while also training with the Brumbies Academy a few days a week. Cudeback, however, isn’t the only standout from the California Conference running with the Brumbies Academy. Several 2017 D1A National Championship winners from Saint Mary’s are currently training with the Canberra-based academy. 1st-Team All-Conference performers Aaron Matthews, Anthony Rodriquez, Ethan Waller and Holden Yungert are in the midst of an eight-week camp at the academy, as are California’s Back of the Year Michael McCarthy and Gael back Tommy Wallace.
Yungert, like Cudeback, has earned himself playing time for Easts.
“It’s eight weeks of total immersion,” said Saint Mary’s Head Coach and recent U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Tim O’Brien. “They practice with the team during the week and play games on Saturdays – whether it be with the first, second or third team. It’s pretty cool.”
One other Gael is south of the equator during summer break. Promising soon-to-be sophomore Kelly Reilly, whose freshman campaign was hampered by injuries, is in New Zealand training with Auckland University a year after recently-graduated Saint Mary’s stalwart Dylan Audsley spent a portion of his summer on the training grounds of New Zealand’s North Island.
Reilly isn’t the only D1A center getting time with Auckland University, though. Lindenwood’s Sam Chapman, who scored four tries during the Lions’ run to the 2017 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, has been at Auckland University since June 10 and will remain there until the end of July. Chapman, who has already played in four matches with Auckland University, believes that the style of rugby played in New Zealand has made him adapt on the fly and is increasing his skill level by the day.
“The quality of play here, as well as the skill level, really brings up my game since the ball is in play for so much longer than I feel it is sometimes in America. Thus, allowing for more rugby as well as the chance to really utilize stuff that Kiwis are great at, such as counterattacking, as well as moving the ball through the hands,” Chapman noted.
The University of Arizona’s good fortune of international scholarship recipients continues this summer. Last year Steve Branham won the Mark Loane Medal which allowed the up-and-coming front rower the opportunity to complete a rugby scholarship at the University of Queensland Academy in Brisbane and play with the University’s rugby team. Currently, Branham’s Junior All-American and Arizona teammate Bronson Teles is in Queensland on his owns scholarship after being named the 2016 Mark Loane Medalist. Teles is coming off a freshman season in Tucson that earned the lock All-Conference recognition in the PAC Rugby Conference.
The on-field development players receive in rugby-crazed nations such as Australia and New Zealand is undoubtedly noticeable. Still, the education of how the culture of the sport is unique in foreign countries is equally rewarding.
“My favorite part of being over here is seeing first-hand how a rugby club should operate from the ground up,” Chapman explained. “As well as a level of respect and loyalty that clubs have fostered among their players to have towards their respective clubs. In my opinion, this is what makes the level of play here so high. It is that they place such a big importance on the communal aspect of it, which gives players that much more to play for.
“Any player who wants to completely change their footy for the better, I couldn’t think of a better place to go than New Zealand. I’ll definitely be back as soon as I finish school.”