Rugby becomes club sport powerhouse

Grant Lucas – Sports editor. For years, rugby has been a sport most Americans know little about. They are aware, however, of the physicality it brings to the table. Not only that, but there’s also little stoppage time during matches. Players are constantly flying around the field, seeking collisions and working for a score. At Linfield, the opportunity to become one of these athletes has arrived.
In the fall of 2007, two Linfield students regularly commuted to Portland to play for the Oregon Sports Union Rugby club team, a team that senior Craig Sinclair said was one of the better teams in the country.
Sinclair said the commute, combined with then-junior Brad Farnham’s work schedule, prevented the two from consistently attending practices. Sinclair and Farnham then came up with an idea: a Linfield rugby team. That fall, they began the process of creating a club.
“Brad had tried once before and failed, but I knew the proper avenues,” Sinclair said. “After a couple months, we were ready to go.”
While Sinclair sought approval from the Associated Students of Linfield College, Farnham used his outgoing personality and rugby knowledge to convince people to show up to meetings and practices. The first Linfield rugby meeting took place in February 2008.
Most players on the squad credit Farnham as their reason for joining.
Senior Josh Atiyeh said Farnham persuaded him to give rugby a shot. After watching several matches on TV, Atiyeh developed an interest in the sport. He doesn’t have any regrets for his decision to join.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s a great sport that’s made even better by the guys who are on the team.”
Senior and former club president Devin Salinas had an experience similar to Atiyeh’s. After being invited by Farnham, Salinas realized how enthusiastic Farnham was about the obscure sport. Salinas said he quickly became hooked and has loved it ever since the first practice.
The budget, Sinclair said, is “decent-sized:” about $5,000. However, $2,000 of that goes directly to trainer fees while the remainder finds its way either to the local and national rugby leagues or is used to pay insurance fees.
The newest Wildcats compete at the Division II level but are not considered a varsity sport. According to senior and club president Paden Tufts, the team’s schedule is decided by the Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union.
Although the rugby team has only been on campus for a little more than a year, Sinclair said he has high hopes.
“Our goal is pretty simple: to be a nationally competitive team,” he said. “Linfield, for some reason, has a very athletic population, even among those who aren’t on the football team. We have the athletes. We just have to turn those athletes into rugby players, which is not as easy as it sounds.”
Salinas said that they have the potential to compete with the best of teams and that they are incomparable when it comes to the ’Cats’ athleticism.
“Our experience has been our biggest weakness the past couple of seasons, but now that we have a good core group of experienced guys, we have the potential to be one of the top teams in our division,” Salinas said.
Tufts’ expectations and goals differ slightly from those of Sinclair and Salinas.
“We want to hit hard, play hard and have fun,” he said. “That’s why I’m out here. Improvement will come naturally.”
The Wildcats hosted then 25th-nationally ranked Western Oregon University on Sept. 26, but they were denied a victory. Sinclair said that with the addition of new coaches, Linfield will put up a hard fight the next time it plays WOU.
“The pieces are here for a great rugby side,” he said. “Our Linfield side will be known nationally as this club improves and becomes more experienced.”
For more information on the rugby team’s history or for the game schedule, visit the team Web site: www.linfieldrugby.weebly.com.

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