It was billed as a “friendly” match between the outdoor industry Hookers & Grubbers RFC and the Salt Lake Old Boys (SLOBs) -- reportedly a team of old boys looking for some rugby fun with equally elderly and well past prime players. Now, rugby protocol does dictate that the home team can and will seek any advantage possible to ensure a victory. However, the outdoor industry team, many of whom had not laid hand or foot to a rugby ball in over 20 years, never imagined the SLC contingent would resort to pulling in current talent from the U.S. national team -- yeah, the one playing for a qualifying spot in the next Rugby World Cup.
But, there the outdoor industry team was, with scrum half Michael Hodgson lined up in center field for the opening kickoff realizing he was looking at a very large and clearly very fit human being, whose face he recognized, wearing a SLOBs jersey. As the ball sailed into the air, it dawned on Hodgson… “I had seen his face on TV three weeks ago, playing for the U.S. against Canada in a Rugby World Cup qualifying match. He’d even scored a try in the most recent World Cup match against England and was recruited to play for a professional side in New Zealand. What the heck was he doing playing for the SLOBs against us?” As the ball was fielded by the wing for the SLOBs, Hodgson and teammate Stephen Barnes exchanged a glance as both knew the match was suddenly turning into anything but a casual romp. The SLOBs had stacked the deck (see photo below).
During the first half, and for the first minutes of the second half, your Hookers & Grubbers struggled gamely to hold their own against the onslaught of a clearly much younger, much more cohesive, and certainly loaded team. Some brilliant individual and team play (especially by the scrum) was overshadowed with wave after wave of scoring by the SLOBs as they racked up the tries with a 70 to 0 thumping.
But, all good things come to those who wait, and as the ringers for the SLOBs eventually left the pitch to stand on the sidelines, the outdoor industry Hookers & Grubbers found themselves matched more evenly against the team they originally thought they’d come to play. And, in that last 20 minutes of the match, the score reflected pride and effort, with the Hookers & Grubbers taking it to the SLOBs 12 to 6.
The highlight of the entire match, though, was not the two scoring tries for the Hookers & Grubbers, but rather when rookie rugby player Jen Taylor, in her very first minutes on a rugby pitch, completely leveled one of the better players from the SLOBs, Robert Lopez, with a bruising tackle as he tried to juke around her. The sidelines for both teams erupted with cheers as he lay there somewhat dazed -- yes, our women can tackle and then some, so get used to it, lads.
Naturally, the Hookers & Grubbers RFC collectively thanked the SLOBs for obviously coming into the match so terrified of the Hookers & Grubbers that they felt it necessary to recruit World Cup quality players to field against the outdoor industry team. It is not often one team’s reputation for fitness, skill, guile and agility so utterly paralyzes another team before the match as was certainly the case here. How else do you explain so many ringers in a supposed Salt Lake Old Boys club? Exactly.
While playing rugby and enjoying some seriously good camaraderie amongst many industry friends was a priority, the Hookers & Grubbers had another agenda, one far more important than the match itself -- raising money to benefit AMBUCS and help a child find joy through increased mobility.
The photo to the right is of Kyler Quelch, a first grader with cerebral palsy on his new AMTRYKE made possible because of the money raised by the Hookers & Grubbers rugby match through individual donations and sponsorships. We are told that Kyler loves baseball and anything to do with sports and being outdoors. The type of cerebral palsy that Kyler has affects his lower body more than his upper body and consequently he uses a walker to get around, and he is thrilled about now having a bike that he can ride.
“On behalf of his family and the Vermont Friends of AMBUCS we truly appreciate the outdoor industry Hookers & Grubbers match that enabled Kyler to get his own bike and be able to ride with his friends and family!” said Marie MacLeod PT of Vermont Friends of AMBUCS in an email to SNEWS®. “Thanks to the many Hookers & Grubbers for their support and we look forward to working with you in the future to supply more special kids with adapted bikes. All additional funds left over after Kyler’s bike purchase will go toward one of the other 30 children that are currently on our waiting list to get an adapted bike.”
Acknowledging the support that made the match and donation to AMBUCS possible:
- Outside PR, Pitch Engine, Crumpler and Bridge Outdoors for providing the Hookers & Grubbers official team jerseys.
- Thanks to Mike Marawski and Bjorn Nabozney of Big Sky Brewery for bringing us those refreshing beverages all the way from Montana. A rugby match simply cannot be played properly without the necessary after-match libations.
- Dave Prows and his staff from Costa Vida for their time and energy and most delicious food during the after-match party!
- CamelBak for providing our team with official Hookers & Grubbers RFC logo water bottles.
- Nalgene for water bottles donated to the University of Utah rugby team as a thank you for allowing us to use their pitch.
- University of Utah rugby team for allowing us to use their pitch, and their coach.
- All the outdoor industry rugby fans who showed up to watch the match -- the support was very much appreciated.
- A big thank you to University of Utah rugby coach Blake Burdette and Ben Knudson for showing up at 4:30 p.m. to set up the pitch. Burdette had to jump on a plane the next morning to coach the U.S. Eagles college forwards in South Africa.
- And another thank you to Carter Stritch (www.carterstritch.com) who provided the rugby images for this article and a lot more official rugby shots from the match.
And yes, this was such great fun that we are going to do it all again next year. We know many of you attending Outdoor Retailer Summer Market asked about playing, so come one, come all. There are no tryouts for this team, other than a simple email saying, “Count me in on the inevitable rucks, mauls, blood-letting and beer in SLC,” and we’ll get your name to Coach McCarthy to add to the roster for Hookers & Grubbers Part Deux 2010 -- ORRugby@snewsnet.com.