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The more things change, the more they remain the same. There we were, just like the old days, applying our rugby game faces in liquid form well before noon at the old Park City Muckers’ saloon of choice on Main Street.

We may have been on our way down to the new Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy to cheer on the USA Men’s National Team Eagles in their official "test" competition against Uruguay but a pre-match meet-up surrounded by relics of local rugby history seemed well in order.

True fans find it difficult, if not impossible, to let go and move on. The Muckers were our lads and they continue to stick to our ribs. Toasts were raised to players past and present and to the ever-loyal fan base who loved them. Glass met glass and ice cubes tinkled as knowing winks scanned walls-full of Mucker memorabilia.

Not unlike Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore who, in the film "Apocalypse Now," invoked his love for the smell of napalm in the morning, we, for the most part, opted for the fragrance of a well-appointed "Bloody Maria." There is something about the wafting aromas of tomato juice and agave nectar that prepares one for the battles ahead.

So, with the one who had tossed back the coffee blend in the driver’s seat, it was off down Parley’s Canyon to the new Real Salt Lake MLS Stadium. Although it wasn’t much farther south than, say, "Tierra del Fuego," it should be mentioned that, game faces being what they are, more than a few false turns were taken.

An inability to locate the "pitch" in a timely fashion is another longtime rugby ritual. Oscar Wilde would have loved the stadium’s location. One of his more famous quotes had it that "rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city."

And then there were our seats! Aside from being perched pretty much on what they refer to as the "halfway line" (football’s 50-yard line) and only a couple of rows back, their coefficient of plushness red-lined the scale. A flat-out of abyss of comfort is what they were. Some who fell in were never seen again.

Not that that state of affairs came as a total surprise. When going online to purchase tickets, one couldn’t help but notice that the top-of-the-line seats for a Real Salt Lake soccer game, the "premium seats" that went for $125, were available for a fraction of that for the USA-Uruguay rugby match.

As the upgrading of both level-of-comfort and one’s sideline line-of-sight are also age-old rugby rituals, the seats in question were acquired. Quite decadent to be sure, but that’s a lesson learned back in the day from the "Mucker Old Boys" who saw rugby as a state of mind and manners that should be consumed in excess.

And there we sat, perfectly nestled in and properly elevated for both the visual and cheering tasks that lay ahead. The opening match between a USA "select" side and the New Zealand Heartland club provided enough top-shelf play for the rugby-starved Park City enthusiasts who, after years of wandering the barren local rugger desert, were able to hone their quite rusty and dusty chops.

But, although the opening match produced many exquisite moments, the marquee event, with the USA Eagles streaking to a 43-9 blowout win over an outmanned Uruguay squad for their first victory of the year, proved rapturous. What fun it would be to follow this bunch around on tour.

Many among the 5,000 plus in attendance certainly treated them like rock stars. With former Park City Haggis "prop" Matekitonga Moeakiola dominating the front-row play for much of the match, Eagle captain Todd Clever running totally amok as fine "loose forwards" are wont to do, and one breakaway "try" seemingly following another, you would have thought the Stones were in town.

And, although "Los Teros" came up way short in the final score, they did lead 9-7 at halftime and never gave up even when they fell too far behind to mount a serious comeback. In fact, they provided what will no doubt be my longest-lasting memory of the match, a classic "scrum" just a few meters away from our rather self-indulgent and quite-posh position in the stands.

Although Uruguay had clearly won the scrum, their "number-8" kept the ball inside their end of the 16-man rumpus for what seemed like an eternity. The scrum refused to either collapse or pivot. Tension moved down both wings as, against a backdrop of the sparkling new Rio Tinto Stadium and the snowcapped Wasatch Range, Los Teros plotted their play.

The mental strain approached that of a guitar string on the cusp of snapping. Breathing became a luxury. The cosmos as we knew them ceased to expand. And then, as the ball finally emerged, resolution arrived. They had played us like a blues riff and left us screaming for more.

It just doesn’t get any better than world-class national-test rugby on a chilly Utah bluebird Saturday afternoon. Hopefully the experience for the USA Rugby organization matched that of those who showed up in support, and, if the rugby stars align, they’ll return for another go. We will keep our necessary rituals at the ready.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.


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