Tuesday, March 24, 2009

USA Sevens Rugby Tournament at PETCO Park

The USA Sevens Rugby Tournament was here last month and I got the chance to cover it for the San Diego Community News Group.

There were a huge number of photographers there that ran the gamut from full time pros to weekend warriors and worse. I saw quite a few pros that I've met before; Denis Poroy (AP), Donald Miralle (Getty), Sam Hodgson (Voice of San Diego) and Crissy Pascal (Union Tribune). There were a few well known freelancers like Robert Benson - who seemed to be shooting a personal project - and a whole smattering of guys working for smaller publications like the SDCNG that I was shooting for.

There were more than a few other shooters there who didn't seem to be serious at all though. They had minimal equipment, not suitable for the job - one body with a package lens, no long glass or monopod. That's not a problem - everyone's got to start somewhere. But there were many of them who spent most of their time talking, texting and cheering the action on the field. I guess someone was doling out press passes to their buddies...

It was comical but at times it was pretty distracting and annoying too. I had a bit of a weird situation when I returned to my spot in the Press Room to find a bunch of guys with no photo gear or computers sitting at my desk drinking cocktails and watching the action on the field. They were a bit put out (to say the least) when I asked them to move so that I could get into my stuff. 

I hate to sound like a whiner or a dick, (especially as I am a rookie in this job and I do my fair share of whining and dickery too), but there you go. If you're not working and I am, stay out of the way please.

Here's my pick of the images from that day:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Touch Rugby Players in San Diego : Article

I've been busy and haven't had time to update recently but I am hoping to catch up a bit over the next few days.  First off, the Touch Rugby article mentioned in my last post appeared in the Downtown News and then again in the Beacon:

San Diego Community Newspaper Group, February 5, 2009 -   by Ronan Gray.

Super-Bowl Sunday has passed. The “World” championship of football has been decided for another year and diehard football fans across the nation are falling into despair. It is the beginning of the long bleak months of the off-season. Across the nation, as they somberly pack away their war paint, oversized foam appendages and plastic Viking helmets many may well be contemplating what could have been. Most have already resigned themselves to the sheer boredom of spring and the long hot days of summer before fall and return of football. What memories survive of the Sundays they stripped to the waist with a buddy, painted one another up and joined the beer-fueled mob to roar at the primordially satisfying spectacle of fit young men running into one another at great speed will have to carry them through.

For those fans lucky enough to live in San Diego though, the outlook may not be so bleak – especially if they are willing to broaden their horizons just a bit. In a few short weeks, a truly international “world” football event is coming to town. Rugby football – the wellspring of the American game itself – will take over the heart of Downtown San Diego for a weekend of non-stop action on February 14th and 15th when the USA Sevens rugby football tour touches down at PETCO Park.

The annual competition – the largest international rugby tournament in North America – is in its sixth year and will be at PETCO for the fourth year in a row. It will feature 16 nations competing in 44 games over the course of the two-day event. A fan zone inside the venue will feature music, fun and of course beer. This year’s tournament will also feature a women’s competition for the first time – the perfect Valentine’s date.

At first glance, the two games seem vastly different – there are no pads or helmets on the rugby pitch and the game is essentially played non-stop with the same players filling both offensive and defensive roles. Passing the ball forward is not allowed in rugby and only the player carrying the ball may be tackled or blocked. However, the same primordial satisfaction of seeing two bands of warriors battle it out in a full contact sport before a stadium of cheering fans seems to be identical regardless of the attire or the rules. The Sevens tournament at PETCO will feature a variant of the full 15-player Rugby Union game as the name suggests. Instead of 15 players, only 7 per side play in this fast-paced version of the game.

Rugby itself has been played in the US along side the modern variant of the game for many years. It is most popular along the eastern seaboard but there are teams in many colleges across the nation including here in San Diego at both SDSU and UCSD. Every branch of the US armed forces and the Coast Guard has a rugby team. Both Westpoint and Annapolis – the US Army and Naval Academies respectively – have had rugby teams for more than forty years.

One remarkable difference between the two games is how amateur rugby players seem to continue to participate in the sport for decades after the high-school and college years when most American Football players have hung up their cleats and found their place on the sofa in front of the boob-tube. Most play a non-contact version of the game that is gaining popularity in San Diego. Pick-up “touch” rugby games can be found most weekends in area parks and at the beach in Del Mar and South Mission Beach. There are several more formal, 15-player full contact teams playing in the county too, including The San Diego Surfers (http://sdsurfersrugby.com/) - an all women’s team based at Robb Field in Ocean Beach. Mandy Wilson who plays with the Surfers says that it’s a great way to stay fit. Beyond that there is a great social aspect to the sport. “Rugby is the most team oriented sport I have ever played and is as much of a club as it is a sport,” says Wilson. “There is an opportunity for any age, gender, ability and experience to play rugby. Teams are always looking for players and it is a great way to meet people and become part of a team.”

Ruth Oram has been playing Touch Rugby for more than ten years with the San Diego Tumeke Touch Club (www.TumekeTouch.com) - an informal group of both men and women who meet on Saturday mornings to play touch at local parks. “Touch is growing a lot [in San Diego], mostly from the help of transplanted Aussies and Kiwi's”, Oram says after a game on a Saturday morning in Del Mar. South Africans and some Europeans add to the mix of nationalities amongst the locals. Oram says that she has traveled around the country as well as to Hawaii and South Africa to play in tournaments.

On February 12th and 13th The San Diego Invitational Rugby Tournament – an ancillary event to the USA Sevens – will feature play by some of the county’s and the nation’s best 15-player men’s and women’s teams at the Del Mar Polo fields in North County. It will be a good place for interested locals to see the game, get a quick fix of full-contact sporting action and perhaps even get more information about playing locally. For more information see www.usasevens.com and www.usasevens.com/san-diego/san-diego-invitational.aspx.

Copyright Ronan Gray 2009, All rights reserved.  No reproduction without prior written permission.