By David Weissman, Special to the Citizen 06/07/12
The Richmond Lions Rugby Football Club will host its annual Monk Vaughan Sevens Tournament Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Dorey Park in Varina.
The tournament is named for Vaughan and holds special meaning for the club.
“He was actually a player of our back in the 1970s who was hit by a drunk driver and killed,” Lions President Ben Morgan said. “It’s always been a non-drinking tournament in honor of that.”
The tournament will serve as a Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU) qualifier, the third straight year it has held that distinction, according to Morgan. Teams must accumulate a certain amount of points in qualifiers throughout the summer season to qualify for the playoffs. The Mid-Atlantic is the Lions' designated region.
"We should have two teams out there,” Richmond men’s sevens coach Billy Tilson said. “I expect to win.”
Aside from the men’s teams, the Monk Vaughan Tournament will also play host to youth, women and “Old Boys” teams. “Old Boys” is the name given to men playing in the over 35 years old league.
Morgan said the tournament would be held in a pool play format on four fields, with rugby being played continuously all day long.
Summer sevens is one of three seasons in which the Lions compete. During the fall and spring seasons, the Lions play 80-minute games with 15 players on the field for each side at a time. With only seven players on the field for each side in the summer, games are limited to 14 minutes. Sevens is the rugby format that will be played in the Olympics in 2016, Morgan said.
“Wide open game, lots of scoring, lots of open-field tackling,” Tilson said of the difference between sevens and fifteens. “It favors more of the smaller, quicker guys.”
Tilson believes his teams are a step ahead of the competition for this tournament.
“[We] started practicing a little bit earlier this year, so our guys are a bit more inclined for sevens,” he said. “It usually takes a while to get people out of fifteens mode, so I think we’re ahead of other teams who played fifteens’ season a bit longer.”
A Division II rugby team, the Richmond Lions R.F.C. was established in 1963 and was the first rugby club in the area. The club travels regularly up and down from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for league games, Morgan said.
“Those guys who play rugby, whenever they go to a new town, the first thing they do is find a local rugby team,” Morgan said.
Coming to Richmond from New York, Tilson agreed, saying he searched online for rugby in Richmond before he bought a car, found a house or anything.
“I love the decision-making,” Tilson said of rugby. “It’s unlike football where everything’s kind of mapped out. You really rely on the players to make decisions, and it’s constantly reading the game.
“In terms of coaching, you really have to coach people how to make decisions in open play, how to read the right angles. Above that, I love the continuousness of it. It’s constant, no stop and go, you keep on pushing and pushing.”
Morgan started playing rugby while in the Marine Corps, after playing other sports throughout high school and college. He said rugby combines all the best parts of other sports he loved, and he thinks others across the nation are catching on quickly.
“What people are realizing about rugby is, it doesn’t take much equipment – really only need a ball – and everybody has to be involved,” he said. “It’s not like football where you can specialize and say, ‘Okay, you’re a fat kid, stand on the line,’ and that kid doesn’t move much.
“With rugby, everybody’s moving, everybody plays defense, everybody plays offense. The parents like it because you bring your kid out, and you don’t feel like your kid is just getting stuck at some position where they don’t get to play. Everybody’s on the field, everybody’s running around getting tired and everybody gets to touch the ball.”
With those factors in mind, Florida is adopting rugby as one of its primary P.E. sports, Morgan said.
Morgan believes having a strong youth program will take the Lions organization to another level. The program started off in the southern part of the city, where it has flourished, with close to 70 kids enrolled last year, he said. The Lions are looking to expand the program more into northern Richmond in an attempt to build a inter-program league.
“It started off as just four or five of the Old Boys’ kids, and it’s taken off,” Tilson said. “[I’m] really excited for the first class to start moving up and playing college rugby.”
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