With most rugby teams winding down from the fall season, Rugby Rugby’s David Martin looks at some of the rugby Christmas traditions.
By David Martin
It's Christmas and for most rugby teams that means a break from the season and free weekends. That gives players time to shop with their families, set up Christmas trees and rest up for the spring season.
But many teams have their own Christmas traditions that get players out of their house during the off-season. And it's not just Christmas parties, although most teams usually meet up at their local pub for a few seasonal libations.
For the New York Rugby Club, the holiday season begins with their annual New York 7s tournament. This year some 125 teams competed in the longest running 7s tournament in the nation. For the players that run the tournament, they rarely get a chance to relax over the Thanksgiving holiday as most team members are out at 8 a.m. on Friday to set up the fields.
"This is when the fall season ends and the holiday season begins," said Matt McCarthy, of rugbywrapup.com and captain of the New York Old Starz. He fielded a team of old boys for several years that take the field in the social division. "This is the weekend when we switch over from 15's and get into the holiday spirit."
In North Carolina, for the last 20 years the Raleigh RFC's Christmas begins earlier. In the fall they begin to take orders for Christmas trees that the team sells as their big fundraiser. The team usually takes in some $6,000. It helps fund the men's team and women's teams, both of which won Division 2 championships in the past few years. And it helps pay for upkeep at the club's two rugby fields that the team actually owns.
"Where else can you get a tree you know was cut within the week," says Jim Kellenberger, one of the team's founders. He says many of the customers aren't rugby players, just folks who like to support the team and like fresh trees.
The trees actually come from tree farms in northwestern North Carolina and are cut days before they are brought to Raleigh for sale by the ruggers.
Across the country, high school players with the Liberty High School rugby team in Reston, Washington are working at least three shifts afterschool a week selling Christmas trees. They sell some 200 trees at a nursery owned by their coach, Jim Candler.
"A lot of the boys come back and help out give back to the club," said Erin Jensen, a volunteer with the club whose son has sold trees for the past four years. "Rugby is a real tight-knit community and this is our biggest fundraiser. It's also a big team builder. We ask the older boys to mentor the younger boys."
The players move from an under-14, to under 16 and then under 19-year old programs before most players hook up with the men's Valley Kangaroos club.
For the first time this Christmas, the Portland Lady Pigs are in the Christmas tree business. That makes a lot of sense since Oregon is the nation’s largest producer of Christmas trees. About a year ago, Brett Zimmerman, joined the club and also purchased a Christmas tree farm. So this year she donated about 200 trees to the club and created a new fundraiser. After just four years the team was invited to Division 2 nationals and finished 7th in the nation. That created a fundraising challenge but the trees should help and treasurer Amanda Duncan said they expect to raise $5,000, about the cost of the team trip to nationals.
“We thought it was a unique and fun thing to do,” Duncan said. “Half the team wanted to buy their trees right away and then we sold them to friends too.” Each club member is supposed to see just four trees and the team members deliver them. Mostly forwards she said, but added they have some pretty solid backs as well.
So now that you have the tree, what do rugby players want under the tree this year?
David Martin with the Gentlemen of New York wrote, "The Hooligan's Table, The Rugby Player's Cookbook." The book includes some 90 recipes collected from rugby players, rugby supporters and rugby friends around the world. The book has already proved popular with rugby players who like to sit down to dishes like shepherd's pie, a popular pub dish that's easy to make at home. Blaggard's Gaelic Chicken is a simple but delicious dish that adds a bit of Irish whiskey to a light cream sauce for a dish that's not too complicated but allows the cook to look like an accomplished chef.
There's a recipe for cheddar stout soup from a popular rugby pub in Chicago that includes Guinness, beer can chicken, where the ingredients demand the cook drink at least a half a beer, pizza on the grill from a rugby playing Hollywood screenwriter, pasta dishes, including a few made for the U.S. Eagles and a recipe from one of the Old Christian rugby players immortalized in the book and move "Alive." With drinks, desserts, side dishes and both easy to cook and fun recipes like kangaroo filet, there really is something for everyone.
But the book is more than recipes. There are some fun rugby stories, some rugby facts and trivia and great photos, both action photos that put you in the game and a few that showcase the rugby way of life. That is why the book is subtitled, "How to Drink, Think and Entertain Like A Rugby Player."
Also on the shelves this year is "Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man" by Jay Atkinson. A member of the touring side, The Vandals, he recounts rugby stories from an over 30 year rugby career. One that included tours, select sides, championships and a fair share of injuries.
For authentic rugby gear the place to shop is the World Rugby Shop at www.worldrugbyshop.com. They have daily specials and you can find a jersey for your favorite rugby team. The site is a complete rugby shop so if it's going to be awhile before you can pick up gear at the next tournament, visit them online.
But if you really want to experience rugby at Christmas, why not to go rugby, Rugby, Tennessee of course. Located in the hills of east Tennessee, Rugby was founded in the 1880's by an Englishman named Thomas Hughes who wanted to build his own utopian community for wayward sons of the wealthy in America. He named it after his alma mater, The Rugby School. And today it's still a thriving community but retains its Victorian era charm. A handful of the original buildings still stand and new construction must conform to original designs. The highlight of Rugby's year is Christmas.
The Victorian era was a time when Christmas was just staring to have more meaning and have more celebration," says Mike Harris, the executive director of Historic Rugby. "Here people can go back in time and celebrate a Victorian Christmas."
And, he says, everyone stops into the Harrow Road Café, which is a restaurant in the same spot as the town's very first restaurant, but upgraded from a shack to a more modern café. But the menu features British pub staples, sure to please every rugby player who has had a pint or two at their local pub.
Harris says the ties to rugby are even stronger as the University of Tennessee's rugby team has actually traveled to rugby for "home" games. Harris explained they have the fields and would like to host more rugby games in the future. So more players might just be able to play rugby in Rugby.
It's Christmas time, so pick out a tree, put a book or two under it for the rugby player in your life and imagine a traditional rugby Christmas, maybe even in Rugby.
David Martin is the author of "The Hooligan's Table, The Rugby Player's Cookbook." Pick up a copy at www.therugbycookbook.com
HAVE YOUR SAY...What is your rugby team tradition. Add your comments on facebook below.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.