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Marine Rugby team holds tryouts here for Armed Forces competition

By Art Powell | | November 12, 2009

Fifty Marines from around the world took to the soccer field here Nov. 2 for tryouts for the official Marine Corps Rugby Team which lasted until Friday. Following a game in Macon on Saturday, 25 of them were picked to be members of the Marine Corps Rugby team which is currently competing in the Armed Forces Rugby Championship at Ft. Benning, Ga.

“The biggest problem we have is the fact that we have only one week to get together, select a team and go play in the championships,” said  Lt. Col. Jon Jacobs, section head, aviation training systems, Aviation Training Branch,  Training and Education Command, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., who is also the head coach and officer in charge of the team.

“To me, rugby is the ultimate Marine Corps sport because it involves solid decision making, tactical decisions and small units working together,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not really recognized as such, but it involves everything that is maneuver warfare. It’s a violent sport, but there is a lot of sportsmanship in the game. The camaraderie transcends the game and the best friends I’ve made over the past 25 years of playing rugby are fellow rugby players and fellow Marines.”

For Marines such as 1st Lt. Kris Nekvinda, logistics officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, Calif., rugby filled the bill when he looked for physical sports.

“When I went to college, I was looking for something physical, and rugby drew me in,” he said. “I’m also into mixed martial arts fighting and I fight for Fight Team 29 at Twentynine Palms.”

While he participates in both sports, he explained that they have similarities and differences.

“The difference is that once you get out there on the mat with mixed martial arts, it’s just you and your opponent,” said Nekvinda, who came to the tryouts with a broken nose and a sprained ankle from mixed martial arts fighting. “With rugby, I have 15 hard-nosed guys that are ready to support me.”

Rugby has a well earned rough and tumble reputation, but the Marine Corps team’s assistant coach said size wasn’t everything.

“It’s a game that requires a great deal of stamina, endurance and strength,” said Bob Destafney. ‘But it’s not a game that requires everyone to be the biggest guy or the fastest. There’s a position in rugby for just about everybody.”

And mental power is another aspect of the game.

“We tell our team that all 15 players on the field at any given time have to engage their brain and follow the ball,” said the retired Marine colonel. “Things happen so quickly that you go from offense to defense in a split second.”

One Marine trying out for the team said he first learned to play rugby and wanted to continue in the Marine Corps.

“I played in high school and liked the sport a lot, it was really fast compared to football,” said Lance Cpl. Wilson Ryan, field radio operator, 5/11, MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif. “I played football and tried soccer, but rugby is my favorite.”

Some Marines were in their first enlistment, others were pursuing their career. Capt. David Pidgeon, signals intelligence officer, Marine Special Operations Command, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., has completed 17 years of service in the Marine Corps and is 40 years old.

“They may think of me as the old man, but I like it. They’re too young to be messing with me. I don’t let them.”

Pidgeon says he’s drawn to the game because he likes it and it’s fun.

“To me, it’s more fun than football because it’s more constant,” he said. “You go from offense to defense really quickly and you have to play as a team.”