Following in the footsteps of the success gained in its inaugural season, the Dana Rugby Football Club is ready to expand its program and those successes as it moves up a division in the Southern California Youth Rugby organization.
Last season, Dana Rugby went 6-1 in its first season and made it to the championship game of the the organization’s Blue Division, ultimately falling and settling for a 2nd place finish.
This year, the program has moved up to the White Division, which means competition against more experienced programs.
The division allows the program to accept players from different schools, as long as at least 70 percent are from the home school, meaning that of the roster’s 23 players, at least 17 have to attend Dana Hills High.
Since last season, Dana Rugby has expanded from 17 total players to 38. The program has added a junior varsity team and currently has players from San Clemente, San Juan Hills, Trabuco Hills, Aliso Niguel and Tesoro high schools.
“That’s how you grow the sport, you get the younger kids moving up,” Dana Rugby president Laurence Wahl said of adding the JV team. “We have a lot of first year players but that’s okay, they’re learning quickly.”
Wahl’s son Gabriel is one of this year’s returning players and is one of three players, including Drew Falk and Anton Grigoriou, contending for All-American recognition this year.
Last Saturday, the team played at Dana Hills High, its first opportunity to play on a high school turf field and an opportunity for greater exposure amongst peers.
Wahl said that plenty of students walked up to coaches after the game asking if it was still possible to sign up. The sport has gained popularity after it was announced that rugby will be included in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the U.S.,” Wahl said. “We really wanted to try to bond it to the high school. The kids like it because all their friends can watch them play. There were so many watching who didn’t know about rugby and now they’re interested in playing.”
In addition, Dana Hills football players have also made the transition into rugby. While the two sports are similar, rugby allows all players the opportunity to touch and run with the ball, something not all linemen get the chance to do in football.
“We’re trying to create synergism between the football team and the rugby team because they’re similar sports in different seasons and a lot of football guys can benefit from rugby,” Wahl said. “One of the things we’ve been pitching – the average rugby player runs over 3.5 miles in a game, the average football player runs 0.16 miles. There’s a lot more fitness involved. The linemen in football never touch the ball. Everyone in rugby gets to touch the ball.”
While the growing number of players in the sport is encouraging, Wahl expressed a concern. Because at least 70 percent of Dana Rugby’s athletes have to attend Dana Hills High, many other student athletes who want to get involved in the sport of rugby may not get the chance.
The only other south Orange County program, Tesoro, may not have the 70 percent requirement needed to field a team this year.
In that regard, Wahl hopes to see other high schools begin assembling teams. The two main goals for the program are to add a girls team and see rugby become a CIF-sanctioned sport.
“We would love to add girls rugby to the mix and we would like to eventually be able to make this a CIF sport and get all the rest of the O.C. high schools involved,” Wahl said. “It really gives the kids a world perspective and that’s a positive thing.”