Rugby may be the only game in the U.S. that is best known for its uniform. Those broad-striped shirts with prim white collars certainly are more frequently seen than a scrum, but on California's Monterey Peninsula this weekend the game will be paramount as 800 players from the U.S. and abroad gather for the 22nd renewal of the Monterey Rugby Festival on the Collins Polo Fields. Of course, a fair amount of beer will be drunk before, between and after games because, as much as anything, rugby in the U.S. is a social occasion; the players expect to have as good a time as the spectators. Which may go a long way toward explaining why the game has gained such popularity. Only a decade ago it was estimated that there were maybe 10,000 ruggers, tops, in this country; now that number has soared to 100,000. And as the pictures on the following pages suggest, nowhere will the game be played with more èlan than at Monterey.
ODD INDIANS IN THE SANCTUARY
Proper matrons will lock up their daughters and avert their eyes from the inevitable indelicate bumper stickers as play begins at Monterey. As one of them said not long ago, "Rugby players are beer drinkers; some of them even use abusive language." And it is true that the ruggers do not generally contemplate their contusions and concussions while sipping pale sherry and writing odes to butterflies. Perhaps the old saying, "Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen," is an apt description. As one rugby man said last week, "Those people have nothing to fear from us. I feel like an Indian in a forest when I go to Monterey. Who's gonna trash the joint? I wouldn't so much as drop a piece of paper on the ground."
Be that as it may, when scores of rugby players face others in close proximity to the estates of Firestones, Westinghouses and Crockers, one must anticipate a discreet shudder or two.
March 17, 1980
But in many ways rugby is an ideal game for the peninsula. Bawdy songs and cauliflower ears have never been the game's essence, popular notions to the contrary. Ruggers do not rumble with fans and they rarely take joy in hitting and hurting each other; they even address the referee as "Sir." "Rugby is a game of strategy, sophistication and dedication," says one participant. "We want to beat a guy, not kill him." And rugby is a pretty game to watch, especially at Monterey, where natural beauty is all around and the forests and the sea always seem bathed in a special light.
The tournament is a two-day blizzard of stripes—four games always under way—up and down the lush, green Collins Polo Fields, where the air is heady with sage, salt mist and wood smoke.
Last year, on the first day of play, a Saturday, the James Bay Athletic Association of Victoria was on its way to a 9-0 victory over the San Francisco Rugby Club when a deer ran onto the field. It bounded about in a state of panic, and finally leaped a fence and disappeared in the woods. A San Francisco man said, "We could use him. Maybe we'd score." A half an hour later a swarm of bees buzzed the players, who fell to the grass and covered their heads.
Late that afternoon two foreign teams had made it to the semifinals, and the editor of Rugby magazine, Ed Hagerty, was saying, "If those guys get to tomorrow's finals it will disappoint a lot of people. It will be like having apple pie made of English apples and French ice cream." One of the two foreign teams, Vancouver's Thunderbird RC, thereupon shut out Berkeley's Old Blues RC, top seed in the tournament, 10-0. Now it was up to San Francisco's Bay Area Touring Side to knock off the other foreign power, England's Loughborough University RFC, to put some American pie on the plate. The BATS scored first, and led 4-0 at the half. But when they switched goals Loughborough got the uphill end of the pitch and a favoring wind at its back, and it came back to win 6-4. Humble pie for the U.S.
The Monterey tournament was begun in 1959 primarily to enable teams from Northern and Southern California to play at a site relatively convenient to both. The peninsula is 110 miles closer to San Francisco than Los Angeles, but even San Diego sides have never balked at making the long drive to a spot of such spectacular beauty.
The tournament's co-sponsors are the Monterey Jaycees and the Northern California Rugby Football Union, which stipulate that 16 of the 32 teams must be from the north. There are never that many from the south—the other 16 must also include at least a few from other sections of the country, as well as foreign sides—but the north-south rivalry is still strong. "Ever have two foreign teams in the finals before?" a northerner was asked, and he replied, "Yes, twice, both times from L.A."
On Sunday afternoon Loughborough and the TBirds played for the championship and Loughborough won 4-0. Loughborough concluded its U.S. visit with a victory in San Francisco over that city's RFC side. Both Loughborough and the Thunderbirds subsequently were invited to return this weekend, but neither was able to make the trip. However, James Bay, which finished sixth in 1979, will be there. So will a side from Sydney, the Eastern Suburbs, said to be "very strong." The selectors, not having seen the Aussies play, have seeded them No. 5. The BATS, winners in 1976 and third-place finishers last year, have been seeded first.
So Monterey is teed up for another big weekend, and Bob Campbell, director of public relations for the Pebble Beach Corporation, has issued his annual tournament wisecrack: "Rugby is the only body-contact activity we admit to having here."