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The Tucson Rugby community scrums and drinks together – “when the beer flows, what happens on the field, stays on the field”! After a day of combat on the pitch, ruggers reconvene to No Anchovies and The Frog and Firken, both UA Main gate Bars with outdoor patios right next to each other, there players from each team votes for the “Player of the Match” recognizing those who “really made a difference and played above himself”, those guys get the extra drinks” says Magpie coach John Rouff. The Tucson Rugby adult Community is made of the Magpies, Blackbirds, the Barbarians, Old Pueblo Lyons, and their Women’s Lightning league, and include both the University of Arizona Men and Women clubs and they all carry a grudge on the field but bond together as members of the Arizona Rugby Union off the field.



Rugby has not always been so peaceful, its history goes back centuries and can be traced back to ancient England. In the 10th Century, great mobs would get involved in games that involved kicking and throwing an inflated pig bladder through town streets and squares. Villages would compete against each other and any means short of murder could be used to get the ball across the goal. In 1823, during a game of school football (soccer) in the town of Rugby, England, a young man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran towards the opposition’s goal line. In 1871, the Rugby Football Union formed and led to a split in 1895 which resulted in the sport being named the rugby union by some while the others took the name of the rugby league.


Rugby students took the game, carrying the ball with them
when they graduated and soon rugby clubs were TUCSON RUGBY -8961forming throughout England. The first known club started at Cambridge University in 1839. Matches were played under fairly informal rules. In 1845, three Rugby School students established the first set of written rules. Not all clubs knew these rules or chose to abide by them. It became clear that if they game were to thrive, a central organization was needed, in December 1870-22 rugby clubs met so those rules could be agreed upon and form the Rugby Football Union.

Some believe American football is more dangerous because in football, you hit full-force. In Rugby, contact rules don’t allow tacklers to slam into the ball carriers. Instead, Rugby players use the wrap tackling technique — wrapping their arms around the ball carrier to bring him down. Some folks still believe Rugby is too rough, but ruggers believe if you play smart, you’ll be OK. What makes Rugby really rough is the fact you’re running the entire match. It’s a demanding sport and new players are often surprised because if lack conditioning, you really feel it. Today many prefer rugby over football. They like it without pads because it’s a faster pace with less stopping, rugby has a lot more sportsmanship.

TUCSON RUGBY -8828Macho members of the Tucson blackbirds point out a Rugby half, “is the longest 40 minutes of your life, you want out, but you are afraid someone will laugh at you if you head to the sidelines.” As a game of stamina, rugby developed into a fast-paced physical game that requires tremendous endurance and teamwork, much of the practice is built around strength-building. In Rugby, two teams of 15 players compete in two, 40-minute halves, on a 120 meter field. Play is continuous, unless the referee stops the clock for an injury.

A team can score in four ways: Try-5 points: A try is scored when the ball is carried across the goal line and grounded in view of the referee. Conversion-2 points: A conversion kick follows a try. The kicker attempts to kick the ball between the goalposts. Penalty is 3 points: When a penalty is called, the other team may elect to attempt a penalty kick from the spot of the foul. Drop Goal-3 points: At anytime during a match a player may attempt a drop from anywhere on the field. If the ball goes through the goal posts, the team is awarded three points. Many games have been won by last-second drop goals but often the ball is positioned further from the opponents goal.

TUCSON RUGBY -8957Rugby became a popular sport in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. James Naismith, who created basketball, was a rugby player. Actor Boris Karloff was an exceptional rugby player in Hungary and founded a rugby league in Southern California after he moved to Hollywood. The United States owns two of the four Olympic gold medals ever awarded in Rugby won in 1920 and 1924. When rugby was tossed from the Olympics after 1924, interest in the game diminished. Since the 1960s, interest in the sport has grown and the USA Rugby Football Union was established in 1975. Today, more than 50,000 rugby players belong to the union. The men’s U.S, national team has qualified for four Rugby World Cups. The women’s national team won the first-ever awarded women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991. Today, 97 nations have rugby unions and more than 3.8 million people watched the last Rugby World Cup on television. That’s a lot of people who understand and appreciate the nuances of a scrum and the strategy of a lineout.

Rugby has grown into a global sport played by tens of thousands of players in over 100 countries. The game features national teams that play each other regularly including the Rugby World Cup played every 4 years between the top 20 eligible countries. Rugby is the No 1 winter sport in New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Wales and is a top 3 sport in Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and Argentina these 10 teams consist of the tier one countries. Rugby has become popular in dozens of countries and particularly in the United States which is now one of eight countries in the second tier of competition.

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The ARIZONA RUGBY UNION consists of the Division One (National Division 2) Men’s Clubs including the Phoenix RFC, Red Mountain Warthogs, Scottsdale Blues and the Tempe Rugby Club The Men’s Division 2 (National Division 3) includes: Camelback, Northern Arizona Landsharks, Old Pueblo Lions and the Tucson Magpies. The Associate Men’s Members include: Phoenix Storm, Prescott Blacksheep, Thunderbird and the Yuma Sidewinders. The Arizona Women’s Clubs include Northern Arizona Timberdoodles, Tempe Women’s Rugby Club, and the Old Pueblo Tucson Lightning College. College Men Clubs include: Arizona State University Men Rugby and the University of Arizona Wildcats. The College Women Clubs include: Arizona State University Women Rugby Club and the University of Arizona Women’s Rugby Team. There are several “Under 19 Clubs” or High School Teams including: Scottsdale Wolves High School, Tempe Rugby Club Youth, the Old Pueblo Lyons, West Vally Misfits and the Red Mountain U-19. Youth Teams include : Scottsdale Wolves Youth – U14/U12/U10/U8, Phoenix U14 Firebirds, North Valley Scorpions and the Laveen Golden Eagles.

TUCSON RUGBY -8963The Tucson Magpies and the Old Pueblo Lyons call Estevan Rugby Pitch home. The field is one of the nicest in the state equipped with stands for fans attending games. Estevan Rugby Pitch is located on the Southwest corner of Speedway Blvd. and Main Ave, and home matches begin at 1:00 pm.

Old Pueblo Lyons RFC
is celebrating its 40 anniversary in 2015 of being an active rugby club in Tucson. Created in 1975, by a group of former University of Arizona ruggers, Old Pueblo has never looked back. Old Pueblo has a tradition of traveling to tournaments and international tours. The Lyons have played on pitches from El Paso to Pasadena, Ireland to New Zealand. Additionally, Lyons have hosted several players from France, Wales, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and England. In the mid-nineties, the Old Pueblo included a new group of ruggers. The U.S. Air Force was being deployed overseas and the rugby club at Davis-Monthan AFB was struggling for players, so the two clubs combined to make Old Pueblo a stronger club. Over the years Old Pueblo has been the club for a number of military personnel passing through Tucson. It has been a source of pride that OP can be a temporary home for the military personnel looking for a rugby team. This successful program is credited to Col. Richard “Dick” Battock. Dick was a genuine rugby enthusiast and past President of Old Pueblo. Today, Dick Battock’s spirit lives on in the club.


Old Pueblo competes at the Division III level of the Arizona Rugby Union. The OP Lyons also develops youth rugby in Tucson, it has supported the Tucson Barbarians Under-19 team. In 2006, Old Pueblo created a women’s squad now called the Old Pueblo Lightning. Old Pueblo Lyons RFC is truly a Rugby Community. The Lyons are always recruiting, and athletes of all abilities are welcome regardless of background, size or skill. Because rugby is a challenging and physically demanding sport, they train and practice twice a week to build fitness, skills, develop game plans. Practices are Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:00-10:00 pm at George Mehl Park, 4001 E. River Rd.


Old Pueblo Lightning Women’s Rugby unofficially began in 2006 and it was composed mostly of alumni from the University of Arizona Women’s Rugby Club. In 2007, Lightning joined the Southern California Rugby Football Union. In the Spring of 2008 Lightning was the Division II champion, and in 2009 and 2010 Lightning finished second in the division. In the summer of 2012 Lightning joined the Old Pueblo Rugby Club, changing its name to Old Pueblo Lightning Women’s Rugby and changed their team colors from black and yellow to navy blue, sky blue, and yellow. The merge made it the first and only rugby club in Tucson to have a men’s team, women’s team, U19 team and master/old boys’ team.


The Tucson Barbarian Rugby Football Club is U19 organization that always welcomes new members. Practice takes place Monday and Wednesday evenings from 4pm-6pm at Udall Park- 7200 E Tanque Verde Road in Tucson.


The Tucson Magpies are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, founded in 1980 by three standouts from the University of Arizona: Dave Sitton, Rick Rendon and Rich Rectanus. In the Magpies history they have developed a strong tradition of winning, taking titles in the Warren Lee Sevens in 1983 and 1984 and the Kachina Sevens in 1984. Playing in the Arizona Rugby Union, the Magpies have won the league championship in 1989, 2003 and tied in 1988, sharing it with the Tempe Old Devils. 954804_339030259559492_1889501693_nThe Magpies also won the Western Division Michelob Rugby Classic title in 1993. TUCSON RUGBY vert-8845 Known as a hard hitting and aggressive team the Magpies are also known as gentlemen, in 1989, 1992 and 1993 they were recognized for Sportsmanship and awarded the Craig Sweeny Memorial Trophy, awarded to the club that demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship, team spirit and pride in the game of Rugby. Magpies practice at Joaquin Murrieta Park at 1400 North Silverbell in Tucson between 6-8pm Tuesday and Thursday. Their Host Pub is No Anchovies on University located at 870 E. University Blvd. The ‘Pies are always there on Thursday nights after practice.

The Tucson Black Birds
, Magpies Under 19 Team, assistant coach Jeremy Fonoimoana Assistant Coach said it best “I didn’t choose the rugby life; the rugby life chose me. ” 2011 Marks the inaugural year for The Black Birds. Led by head coach Tim Pappas, who believes the Black Birds are certain to be one of the top youth programs in Arizona. The U19 program is a great way to get kids into the game early,he says and assures them future success as a Magpie. “We believe in three ideas and all three stem from the same word, RESPECT: Respect yourself, Respect your teammates and Respect the game of rugby”, says Pappas. “Our players have positive attitudes and are challenged physically and mentally each week. Our goal as a club is to develop competent and well-prepared young rugby players in a Safe, Fun and very Competitive environment.”


Following the Blackbird’s 22-50 thrashing by Phoenix Desert Vista Club Team a few weeks back Coach Pappas after the game noted “We have huge hearts, we’re going to have games that are going to be nightmares, all we can do is play hard and concentrate on safety. It was a respectable performance, a time to learn-you are younger-but we’re right there, Desert Vista was first in the league, we came here to learn. We need to work on the art of deception and moves. They were moving moving new players in constantly, how do you defeat that! We have good kids, and its like going into combat, if you get hit, you get to learn-immature teams have lots of kids that haven’t played so next year you will be great. No real patsy’s, you are just going to get bigger and stronger.”


Coach Pappas continued his pep talk online, noting Saturday’s effort. “We lost a little momentum there at the end but the 10 or so fresh players they substituted in-may have contributed to that. I saw improvement in many areas. Our young players tackled extremely well, we took the ball hard into contact and were able to win most of our offensive rucks. Line outs continue to be a strong point! Congratulations to Freshman Zachary Roberts for winning the coaches votes for PLAYER OF THE GAME. Quite an accomplishment considering Captain John Barney turned in his usual outstanding performance. Our goal will always be to win every game and in order to do that we must begin by focusing on the one-on-one battles. Once we are able to win these situations, we can then turn our focus to the bigger picture. Our next game will be Saturday, March 7th against Basis Oro Valley. This game will be for players 8th grade through 10th. There will also be a U-14 contact game and also a youth touch game.”

TUCSON RUGBY youth-8770

Assistant Coach Hans Gregg notes online that the Blackbird’s success is measured one young man at a time, building on the lessons provided by their parents, helping make them be the best person and rugby player possible. Inorder to help thee Blackbirds grow they recently had a chance to work with UA Coach Sean Duffy. It was fun and gave the Blackbirds the opportunity to learn from a successful college coach. Duffy’s message to the under 19 team was clear-commit to learning the fundamentals and it will serve you well in your rugby career at whatever level you pursue. Coach Duffy emphasized you can only learn the fundamentals if you’re attending practice.



The University of Arizona rugby team was coached as a labor of love by Dave Sitton for 35 years, following Coach Sitton’s death in August, the UA hired new head coach Sean Duffy. Sitton was known as “Pops” to his players and he championed the sport as a coach and announcer, influencing the game on a national level. The men’s Division I MVP Award for the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship has been renamed The Dave Sitton Memorial Trophy. “We will miss his energy and enthusiasm,” USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez said in October. “With this award, perhaps we can remember that excellence is an objective worthy of a lifelong quest.”

The University of Arizona Men’s rugby team then named Sean Duffy – assistant head coach at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and former USA Rugby employee who helped develop the sport’s popularity both in the Eastern U.S. and internationally – as the first paid head coach in the Wildcats’ 45-year history.

Duffy, 26, replaces the late legendary coach Dave Sitton who passed away on August 12, 2013 after thirty five TUCSON RUGBY INJURYONE9171years at the helm of the University of Arizona program. The program currently has 60 players and has turned out numerous collegiate All-Americans, Eagles 15’s, and 7’s representatives. “I’m honored to be appointed to this position and to carry on the legacy of Dave Sitton who helped establish Wildcat Rugby as one of the most successful collegiate rugby programs in the U.S.,” said Duffy.

Heath Bray, former Arizona football player and assistant coach, said after Sitton’s death, “I want everyone to know how much of a loss our friend Dave Sitton is. I have had the pleasure of meeting many people in my life. I have never met a person that I liked more than Dave. I have a deep hole in my heart over his loss. He was one of the smartest, nicest, most sincere, and informed men that I will ever know. He was so supportive of me, and so many of us. We lost one of the greatest wildcats ever today. He is one of the people that I can’t wait to have a beer with in heaven. You are missed bro. Cheers. Another of Sitton’s Rugby players said about him: “He bled red and blue.” Don’t think there’s a simpler way to describe him”.


TUCSON RUGBY INJURYTWO5891The Arizona Wildcats Rugby Club continues the grudge tradition of battling with ASU Sun Devil Rugby Team earlier in the year the Wildcats took a 38-10 victory this past Fall and last Spring’s season matchup against ASU club team, the Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 51-38 in the first ever game on William David Sitton Field. The Sun Devils took this year’s matchup winning the Dave Blank Trophy 34-15.

The UA Women’s Rugby Club finished up their regular season play with a 49-24 win over Kennesaw State University, and they will begin play-offs March 29th. This was the last home match for the senior class, and they could not be happier with the way the Ruck Tide played this season: their motto is Get Dirty, Play Rugby…President and 4-year member of the club, Caitlin Reilly stated on Facebook, “Every Sunday when I wake up the sorest that I have even been (since the last Sunday) I ask myself why I keep playing rugby. Then I show up to practice on Monday, tackle my friends and remember. Can’t wait to head to playoffs with you wonderful ladies, and I’m so proud of our team!”

Rugby Union was played in the Olympic Games in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924. The United States won the gold medal in rugby against France in both 1920 and 1924 making the United States the only country to hold two gold medals in rugby at this time. In 2009, the International Olympic Committee voted to re-introduce rugby to the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games but in a sevens rugby four-day tournament format instead of the rugby union 15’s rugby. The next Rugby World Cup will be held in England in 2015. In addition to the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup, other major tournaments are held every year including the Six Nations Championship, The Rugby Championship, Super Rugby, and The Heineken Cup.

Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Summer Olympics is scheduled to be held in August in Rio de Janeiro. The competition will take two days. The 2016 Summer Olympics is the first time rugby sevens will be played at the Olympics, though rugby union was last played at the 1924 Summer Olympics. Rugby sevens, also known as seven-a-side, is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players, instead of the usual 15, with shorter matches. TUCSON RUGBY kid-9065 The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Sevens is one of the most well distributed forms of rugby, and is popular in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and especially in the South Pacific

Since its beginning, rugby has developed into one of the world’s most popular sports, with millions of people playing, watching and enjoying the game. It is enjoyed by men and women of all ages from young children in youth programs to masters (over-35) rugby leagues. Rugby is also played at a variety of levels from amateur to competitive collegiate and professional levels. At the heart of the sport is a unique ethos which it has retained over the years. Not only is rugby played to the letter of the laws established by World Rugby, but within the spirit of the laws. Among all fans, players, referees and coaches, you will find a common bond of dedication and passion for the sport that unites them all. From the school playground to the Rugby World Cup final, Rugby Union offers a truly unique and thoroughly rewarding experience for everyone that is involved in the game.


In Arizona, within the Arizona Rugby Union, there are now 16 Men’s Clubs in the State that play each season for a state championship trophy and can progress to regional then to a national club championship competition. The Devil’s Rugby Cup is one premier rugby 15’s tournament that is held the first weekend in December each year in Tempe. The event attracts some of the most competitive sr. men’s, sr. women’s, collegiate (men’s/women’s), and youth (HS boys/girls) clubs from around the nation and offers an exceptional social program for the rugby fans! FUTURE DATES: December 5–6, 2015 and December 3–4, 2016.

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The Tempe Sizzling 7’s Rugby Invitational and National Qualifier is a premier rugby 7’s tournament that is held in June, annually. The Sizzling 7’s Invitational also attracts senior men, senior women, collegiate men and women, and youth (HS boys/girls) programs from around the nation. The Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU) has also designated the Sizzling 7′s as one of four qualifying events and Sizzling 7’s is hosted by the Tempe Rugby Club and sponsored by the Desert Southwest Athletic Club.

The Tucson Rugby Cup is scheduled for March 28th and will feature a long-lived grudge match between the Tucson Magpies and the Old Pueblo Rugby Teams and will conclude with a Senior contest. Rugby words to live by; “that flanker will be in the World Cup in four years and if you are playing your very best and you get your ass kicked-you’re getting your ass kicked by the very best!”

Magpie Coach John Rouff is trying to gather a club team to tour Wales this year and if you are interested call him.


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One response

  1. Angela Wagner-Gabbard

    Very cool article. Glad to see that someone is writing about what we are so passionate about. This is a way of life. Great coverage. Thank you.

    April 19, 2015 at 1:08 PM

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