For those fans in need of a fix for their rugby "jones," there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that our local lads have performed quite admirably upon the pitch this spring. The bad news is that they have done so in Salt Lake City, Boulder, Pocatello and Missoula.
The good news is that the Park City Haggis Web site hints at the revival of the old "Challenge Cup," which, this year, will be a one-day affair held on the Fourth of July. The bad news is that that seems to be the end of it as far as local rugby goes this summer. What’s an old Mucker fan to do, besides pour Guinness on Norm Hall’s tree at City Park.
The cultural impact is huge when considering the loss of summertime rugby down at the pitch. Not being able to blame anyone makes the void even worse. Actually, we’re lucky to have a "side" at all. The Muckers just flat ran out of players and without the merger with Salt Lake Haggis, the landscape would be barren indeed.
Recent batches of ski-bums have proven to be of a different mindset. The cynic might even say that those attracted to the Park City that now exists arrive with less communal vision – that rugby could only be sustained in an old mining town where shacks and saloons were given space.
But, be that as it may, the summer of 2007 is actually rather rugby-rich. Perennial prep juggernaut Highland High School out of Salt Lake City will be hosting the "National High School Rugby Championships" this Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19, down at the Rugby Stadium in Murray Park.
Although, for years, Highland was all the buzz on the national high school rugby scene with their 16 national titles, Jesuit Rugby out of Carmichael, Calif. seems to be the new powerhouse in town, having defeated Highland in two recent championship matches. The Jesuits probably do their traditional pre-match "HAKA" battle cry in Latin.
And the way the brackets are set-up for Tier A in this year’s tournament, it may well be Highland and Jesuit slugging it out once again for the title come Saturday afternoon.
Another upside to the Mucker-Haggis merger is that the Haggis has a somewhat long history of acquiring Highland Rugby alumni to keep their side well stocked with high-level talent. Not that checking out this weekend’s action down in Murray would be akin to a Dodger fan heading to Las Vegas in order to get an early look at a left-handed power hitter.
Another reason rugby fans have been champing at the bit for the 2007 season to arrive is that it’s a World Cup year. Not only that, but the USA National Team has qualified for this sporting and debauchery extravaganza. Was it mentioned that it is taking place on French soil?
In years past, a few Old Boy Muckers have been known to plan ahead for tickets and participate fully in the periphery of the mayhem. Haven’t heard much banter concerning such a pilgrimage this year, however.
Imagine, if you will, a bunch of Muckers turned loose in Paris. Now, there are some hunchbacks that could ring a bell. Wait’ll the "Mona Lisa" gets a load of them. Maybe one of them could even break the "six-minute Louvre."
As made famous by an Art Buchwald column from back in the mid-’80s, "There are only three things worth seeing in the Louvre. They are the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa." Records are kept for how quickly one can visit all three before exiting the illustrious museum.
For a long time the record of seven minutes, 30 seconds was held by the "Swedish Cannonball." An Englishman lowered that to seven minutes flat. "Thus it was, in 1950, that the young Peter Stone went in on a Sunday — a day when you didn’t have to pay — and, while thousands cheered," lowered the record to five minutes and 56 seconds. You can’t make this stuff up!
Now, if any Muckers are wont to try this, it should be remembered that a competitor must always say something – anything – when confronting the Mona Lisa. Stone’s famous comment was "I know the guy who has the original." One can only imagine what ruggers would come up with.
But, that particular digression aside, the good news is that the USA Eagles qualified for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. The bad news is that they were lumped together in "Pool A" along with England, South Africa, Samoa and Tonga. It certainly won’t be easy "rucking" to advance from that group.
Finding a television set with the proper credentials can be a competition in itself during World Cup. If memory serves, it was the 1995 Cup held in South Africa that featured Mucker founder Corky Foster and your humble scribe dashing about the greater Parowan Cedar City area searching frantically for just such a screen to view the final.
Being without karma of any kind, our two heroes came up empty. But all they missed was a match for the ages with the South African "Springboks" edging the New Zealand All Blacks 15-12 in extra time. Coverage of South African President Nelson Mandella presenting the winner’s trophy and the ensuing celebrations went on for weeks.
A scrum of Muckers journeyed to that year’s Cup and it’s a fond memory of sitting comfortably in front of a screen up Heber-way the week before the final, watching a semi-final match played out in a South African monsoon and knowing your mates were wetter than a rugby keg at City Park.
So what are we going to do about our rugby "jones?" Locating a "pub" with like-minded ownership and clientele is one way to "itch" it. "The Republican" down on "State Street that great street" in Salt Lake City is always an option. Jason usually has a match or two coming in from England or Ireland or elsewhere.
But that’s not the same as getting out and about with a cooler on a summer afternoon and swappin’ lies with a sideline full of Mucker fans and old boys after sharing a Guinness with Norm. Not the same by a long shot!