Scrumming to play at World Cup

California may be one of the hotspots of American rugby, but few are even aware that Fresno State has its own rugby club.

Yet, many students would probably make good rugby players, according to Fresno Rugby Football Club member Collin Cook.

“If you like hitting people and going out drinking together afterward, then rugby is something to get into,” Cook, a senior Ag Business major, said. “It’s fun, intense and you play with a good bunch of guys. It’s the ultimate team sport.”

Many are also confused about what rugby is, according to Jason Geurts, a senior finance major and teammate of Cook.

“Rugby is a cross between soccer and American football, in that it is non-stop like soccer and full-contact like football but without the pads,” Geurts said. “People in America see rugby the same way as people overseas see American football, and that misconception is that it is ‘brutal and savage.’”

Geurts is proud of his sport and would like to get the word out to others about rugby. “There are lots of good athletes in the Valley and they think that if they stopped playing football in high school and didn’t get a college scholarship, then they can’t play full-contact sports,” Geurts said. “But the best rugby players are former football and soccer players and wrestlers. We like players with chips on their shoulders.”

Geurts said no one should be intimidated to join. “You don’t need to be a big, huge guy to play,” he said. “There is a position for everyone, of every size and shape. It’s all in the head because you have to be aggressive and not afraid of contact.”

Geurts has had a lot of success with rugby. Earlier this month, he spent a week in San Diego training with the U.S. Men’s National Rugby team, also known as the U.S. Eagles. Geurts is among the 50 athletes vying to be one of the 30 players who will represent the United States in the Rugby World Cup this September in France.

Geurts, 26, has been playing rugby since he was a freshman in high school and played for the Marine Rugby Team before joining the Fresno Rugby Football Club. Upon graduation, he plans to move to San Diego to play for the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club as a rugby player. He may also get a professional contract from overseas if he makes the cut for the Rugby World Cup, which is the world’s third most-watched sporting event.

Dave Standifer is the owner of Athletic Performance Training in Fresno and has been Geurts’ strength coach for two years. Geurts credited Standifer’s training for carrying him to the next level.

“Our big thing is to keep his strength up,” Standifer said. “At first we had to work on his speed and there is a heavy-lifting focus during the off-season. But he is a hard worker and is willing to spend the time to get better. He’s really dedicated.”

Standifer said Geurts has a lot of tenacity. “We punish guys in my training facility and he is really good when it comes to that,” he said.

The Fresno Rugby Football Club was founded in 1971 and operates with the Fresno State Rugby Football club. The members come from a variety of athletic backgrounds and ages, which currently range from 20 to 45. They play against other clubs from throughout northern California. Those interested in joining Geurts and Cook on the field should go to fresnorugby.com for more information.