Seattle pro rugby players visit Anchorage to scout for talent and foster a love of the game

Rugby is a sport that has built bridges between many cultures around the world. Founded in England, it has gained popularity in places as far afield as New Zealand and South Africa.

While the distance between Washington State and Anchorage isn’t that far, the Seattle Seawolves professional rugby team hopes to build a bridge to Alaska.

This brought the team to Anchorage last week, where they hosted a youth camp and a male talent identification camp, hoping to start a pipeline of talent from Alaska to the northwest of the Peaceful.

“Basically we want to share the love of rugby,” said Seawolves coach Allen Clarke. “It’s a great community sport and it’s a great sport for the people. We believe that in the Pacific Northwest there is a real opportunity to develop rugby for all ages and playing abilities.”

Seawolves forward Brad Tucker says sharing the game and promoting it within communities is the best way to inspire the next generation to get into the sport.

“Where I come from, rugby is an integral part of our culture and was a big part of my upbringing,” said Tucker, who is from New Zealand. “When I was young, I had top players who came to teach me the game, and that’s what made me want to continue in rugby.”

Luke Lentfer participated in youth and talent identification camps. The 17-year-old new senior from Grace Christian School is a star on the basketball court and has no footballing experience but believes he could have a bright future in rugby nonetheless.

He wanted to try rugby because he thinks he has the physique to thrive in the sport, and his Alaska Youth Rugby League teammates agree.

Lentfer earned the nickname ‘Captain America’ on his first day of training after one of his trainers said he physically resembled the chiseled actor – Chris Evans – who plays the superhero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“My dad played a little rugby so I decided to give it a try. And it’s a good time and a good sport out of season,” Lentfer said.

Even though basketball is his first love, the reigning 3A Player of the Year is ready to take rugby to the next level if the opportunity arises.

“I’m going to try as hard as I can, like everything else, and see where it takes me,” Lentfer said.

He says his basketball background extends to rugby and helped him adapt to the sport faster.

“Defensively you have a man, you stay with him, get the ball, hang on the ball,” Lentfer said.

Seattle have established themselves as one of the best teams in Major League Rugby, winning titles in 2018 and 2019.

The Seawolves had just wrapped up their MLR season a week prior with a 30-15 loss to Rugby New York. Still, several team members were happy to travel to Alaska.

“It’s always a blessing to have people come here and help grow the sport in Alaska – especially the Seawolves after their big tournament – and grow the knowledge of rugby here,” the youth coach said. from Alaska, Samantha Poe.

Alaska has already seen a resident become a top player. Eagle River’s Alev Kelter has competed in two Olympics for Team USA.

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Tucker has two younger brothers who also play rugby professionally and actually played against his younger brother Will in the MLR Championship game on June 25.

“He got the better of us in that one, and my other brother is playing in New Zealand for the Blues,” Tucker said.

The 29-year-old from Canterbury, New Zealand, said playing rugby teaches children how to develop camaraderie, discipline, leadership and teamwork.

“Contact isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into that aspect of things, rugby has the ability to take you a lot of places,” Tucker said.

His advice to parents who think rugby is too rough because the players don’t wear pads or helmets is to think of it as an “invasion sport” rather than a collision sport.

“That’s the way you really have to look at it,” Tucker said. “You only get hit if you don’t look where you’re going.”

Both Clarke and Poe echoed similar sentiments and illustrated the kind of mechanisms in place to promote and maintain player safety.

“The welfare in rugby union is second to none and there is huge protection,” Clarke said. “We try to avoid contact. We try to move the ball, to play within the collective.

He says the game is more than just players meeting and running in a straight line. It’s about agility, speed, passing quality and simply getting ahead.

Poe says the youth rugby league she coaches in has no rules, it has strict laws which are helping to make the sport increasingly safe.

“We have these laws in place so we can play it safe,” Poe said. “You can’t do high tackles, punch someone in the air, enter from the side and make contact with the head.”

Tucker says talent identification camps like the one the team has run after the youth camp can help provide opportunities for aspiring professional rugby players who are long-time participants as well as those who are relatively new to the sport.

“It’s great to come to Alaska and see what’s brewing here because you never know who you might find,” Tucker said.

He said the Seawolves have three former college football players on the team they discovered at a camp in Portland, Oregon, and there are positions for those of all physical dimensions.

“No matter your body type, there are positions for you,” Tucker said.

Regarding what the team is looking for in potential players during talent identification camps, Tucker said they focus on speed and skill in basic sports duties and finding players. having “the mind for the game”.

Clarke says the ultimate aim of helping to sponsor and run youth and identification camps is to provide opportunities for the next rugby star to be discovered, even though typically only 1% of players at youth camps are really part of professional teams.

He cited the Seawolves inside center Tavite Lopeti as an example of a player who was discovered and is now playing on Team USA’s men’s national team.

Clarke says the support he’s seen for American rugby at all levels has been fantastic, and he has no doubt the game will continue to grow in the United States, which will host the Men’s World Cup tournaments. 2031 and feminine 2033.

He believes the success of the Seawolves in recent years will help increase interest in the region and that they will continue to recruit players from all walks of life.

“If there’s a young player from Alaska or the greater Alaskan region that comes across the trail and plays with the Seawolves, imagine what that does to other members of the community,” Clarke said.

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