Summertime Blues

HAIL PELICUS!

Summertime Blues

The San Luis Obispo Tri Tip 7s has passed marking the end of the summer season.   Games were won and games were lost.   All of them were refereed.   Thus concludes a successful summer.   I have no idea how our Pelicanland sides did in the National Championships because even after several weeks the USA Rugby site listed the 2018 championship results and as of this writing the website is down.   We know for a fact that it isn’t due to traffic, so maintenance?   Of course, usually that generates a “Please be patient we are maintaining the site” message or something similar.   All I am getting is a “504 Gateway Time-out” error.

Sadly, rather typical of USA Rugby.   Noting that Christina Gein is the Northern California representative to the USA Rugby congress, I called my congressman and she said, quote, “I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote”… which really confused me, but it was catchy an I could dance to it.

So since I have no on field 7s action to discuss our attention turns to the World Cup.   The USA has recently moved up to 13th in the rankings and has a chance to finally beat a team not named “Japan” in the tournament.   I apologize to my Tongan readership, many of whom I played with and against and became friends with, but we’re gonna kick your butts.   Gary Gold has the team playing as well as it ever has and we are finally seeing some benefit from overseas professionals as well as the MLR, even as it struggles with its larval stage.   England, France and Argentina will be a much tougher ask.   As always, I will be sporting my colors and cheering hard for the U. S. of A.   Our match schedule for the pool round is here:

England v USA

Thursday 26 September
03:45 Your Time
19:45 Local Time
Pool C Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe City

France v USA

Wednesday 02 October
00:45 Your Time
16:45 Local Time
Pool C Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka Prefecture, Fukuoka City

Argentina v USA

Tuesday 08 October
21:45 Your Time
13:45 Local Time
Pool C Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Saitama Prefecture, Kumagaya City

USA v Tonga

Saturday 12 October
22:45 Your Time
14:45 Local Time
Pool C Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka Prefecture, Higashiosaka City

Until then we wait for the World Cup to start.  As Eddie Cochran famously sang, sometimes I wonder what am I gonnna do, but there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.

Ed Todd – Celebration of Life

Ed Todd passed at his home July 6, surrounded by family, being sung to by his wife Berry, with an attending chorus of sympathizers all across the oval planet.   His wife Berry is hosting a Celebration of Life for him at the SFGG Clubhouse this Saturday, 6pm, Sept 14.

Please let her know if you can come so that enough food is there

Reach directly at 925-788-4834 or berryskitchen@hotmail.com

The Other Shoe Finally Dropped

As many of you heard the US stop on the World Sevens Series was (finally) announced to be held in Carson, CA at the home of the LA Galaxy soccer club, the Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly the Home Depot Center and StubHub Center) located on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills.   Of course, all of the press releases listed the location as “Los Angeles” but in reality the stadium is 15 miles south of LA.   15 miles isn’t so bad, one might think, until one considers the notorious LA traffic.   The current capacity is 27,000 (as opposed to the 36,800 that Sam Boyd held).  Also, one must consider the fact that there is no draw there.   There is nothing but boring, endless suburbia around the location.

Now that the news is official the question has to be asked:  Why?   Las Vegas had become one of the most popular stops on the series and with the new Raider stadium being completed for 2021 plans were already being made to move the event there – a modern facility in every way that would easily accommodate a full sized rugby pitch.  There were rumors that the players didn’t like being in casinos or the condition of the field but were these actually true or were these straw men to give a fig leaf of legitimacy to the move?   After some conversations it seems to be the latter.

And finally, why, after 9 years, move a proven, wildly popular, money maker from an established destination out to the badlands of LA suburbia where it failed before?

As with everything in life, the answers are complex and no one reason will suffice.   Let’s start with the beginning of our tale, when United World Sports bought the rights to host the USA Sevens.  

United World Sports

United World Sports was the brainchild and passion project of Jon Prusmack, who started his rugby career in 1965. He played until 1978; then refereed and coached. He wrote the first American Rugby Coaching Book: RUGBY: A Guide for Coaches, Players and Spectators. (source: United World Sports bio page).   After a successful business career he started UWS to stage major rugby events in the USA and raise the profile of the game.  UWS bought the USA Sevens hosting rights in 2006 from USA Rugby after they failed to generate any profit or buzz with the original location (where the event is now returning) and moved it to San Diego and Petco Park.   They layout of a baseball stadium wasn’t ideal but the facilities were excellent and, more importantly, the location was a major upgrade: downtown San Diego, right smack in the middle of the Gaslamp District.   The event started to grow and the addition of the San Diego Invitational to lure in teams who would then go to the main event was a stroke of genius that boosted attendance.     After 3 years in San Diego the city of Las Vegas came to UWS with an offer they couldn’t refuse (add sinister Vegas mob image here) and so the tournament moved to Las Vegas and the San Diego Invitational – now the Las Vegas Invitational – really came into its own.  Over 200 teams participated in the LVI and attendance at the main event grew every year until the peak of 80,691 in 2017, for an average of 35,901/day, not bad for a stadium that fits 36,800.   

There were problems, though.  The field was small and narrow and grass had to be installed every year over the artificial turf that Sam Boyd normally has (with one notable exception in 2016 when artificial turf was installed over the artificial turf).   Also, the field was a long way away from The Strip and while shuttle busses were provided, it took some time to get there.

And then tragedy struck.   Jon Prusmack lost a long battle with cancer and passed away in 2018.  Control of the company fell to his wife Patrice but the day to day operations were now handled by Jonathan First.

Jonathan First

Jonathan First joined UWS in 2010 and was part of the rise of the Las Vegas Sevens.  He was part of the UWS team that brokered deals with NBC and generally rode the rising tide, so what happened?   According to sources within World Rugby and the international rugby community, he has managed to piss off just about everyone he has ever worked with and not only burned bridges, but salted the earth behind him so nothing would ever grow again.   A bit harsh?  Not when you consider that a WR source told me that “we will never do any business with (Jonathan First) again”.   As further proof of his acrimonious relationships he is currently suing both USA Rugby and World Rugby because they took his toy away from him.   He has also been the reason so many experienced employees – people who built up the USA Sevens and the LVI, people who organized and staged the CRC – have left the company.  Some resigned, some were laid off, some did both, but that has left UWS with a skeleton crew that had no chance at getting and maintaining a high profile international event.

AEG Rugby

So who now has the hosting rights?   The bid was awarded to AEG Rugby, headed up by Dan Lyle.   AEG seems like a solid choice until you look a little closer at their track record.   They have made great strides working with NBC as a broadcast partner and putting rugby on American television sets, but as event managers they have a very poor record.   The Premiership games they have tried to stage in the US have failed miserably and, to my knowledge as of this writing, do not have anyone on board who has any experience with successfully managing an event of this type.   While Dan Lyle was the USA 7s Tournament Director for several years he doesn’t have the team behind him that was in place at UWS.  They were less than spectacular handling 2 teams, how will they handle 16?   With 16 separate training schedules and 16 separate agendas and 16 separate meal and hotel requirements, etc.  It isn’t as simple as it looks and going from 2 team managers to 16 team managers is not a straight geometric progression, but get exponentially more complex.   These things take a year to plan and they have 5 months.   Add to that the travel plans for fans (which need to be made now for any international fans), media credentials, etc there is a shocking lack of information that is currently available for every other stop on the series.  Searching online brought me no joy – even at the official World Sevens Series site there is no information about the tournament except for a date:  https://www.world.rugby/sevens-series/stage/1958/about

LVI?  LAI?

So what happens to the Invitational tournament?   Will there be a Los Angeles Invitational?  Looking at the campus of CSUDH there are a few athletic fields surrounding the stadium, but not near enough to host an event the size of the LVI, plus teams would need to know now if there is a tournament so they can plan out their travel budget and set their schedules.  So far I have not heard anything regarding this so I have to assume their will be no amateur tournament at all.    This not only affects the attendance – they will now be relying entirely on people who will travel just to watch the rugby, but it also affects the core teams’ development sides, the international teams on the outside looking in and the academy/select sides that all played in the Elite bracket of the LVI – both men and women.   This was a great opportunity to get players exposed to high level rugby even if they weren’t in the main tournament and is an opportunity lost.   It is not just players who are missing out – the LVI was a way for referees to get exposed to higher level matches and get seen and coached.  All that is now gone.

So What Of The Future?

Nobody knows for sure, but my guess is that attendance will be disappointing (for the reasons stated above) and this will be seen as a temporary fix while the legal issues are dealt with and the stadium in Las Vegas is finished.   In 2021 I would not be surprised to see this event back in Las Vegas in Allegiant Stadium, with their new, modern facilities and ready to start another 10 year run of success.

2019 USA Rugby Game Management Guidelines

Looking for guidance on how to manage a game?   Well, USA Rugby has your back.  You can find the 2019 USA Rugby GMGs here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1XXcRfsVtLLqUawEHUI47ei0dt_65fDM.

If you do not have access to the google drive linked above you can also view them as well as other pertinent documents here:   http://www.usarugby.org/referee-resources/

Disciplinary Action Reporting – Process For Reporting Incidents

The various competitions all have their own disciplinary chairs and this will make it difficult to centralize the communication and data.  To help we have developed a form that will centralize the process, regardless of the competition.  The link to the discipline form is https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc42vbdqnFVH0u1BGTLhjOivDO2hNsmV4NXvvnC4FyAka7sKQ/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1

  1. Copy the link and have it available on your smartphone.  If you have an iPhone add the link to your home screen.
  2. When needed fill it out and click submit.  The discipline chair of the competition you refereed will receive a notification about the incident.
  3. He/she may contact you latter for more details.
  4. If you have any questions as to how to use the app please refer to the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Uz0_gTaOnY

On To The Game Reports!

Date: 08/24/2019

Bremer County Bucks 52 Iowa City Ducks 0

Location: Waverly, Iowa

Referee: James Hinkin

It is late August so you know what that means?   15s league games!   Or at least it does in the Midwest, so since I was working out in Iowa I let the local society know I was available for a match and they generously offered me this fixture.    So I hopped in my rental and drove up north from Coralville, past Cedar Rapids, all the way to Waverly, Iowa.   The day was perfect, the pitch was fantastic, well-marked with actual rugby posts, and based on the history of these 2 clubs I anticipated a close, hard-fought match.

The first sign that the match wasn’t going to go as expected was when Iowa City showed up with 16 players, including a few debutantes.   The home side, the Bucks, had a full bench and loud support from their fans so they looked to hammer home their advantage.   After the appropriate pre-match duties, everyone was ready so I blew my whistle and started the match.  Iowa City was immediately on the back foot and couldn’t seem to get possession, or when they did, they couldn’t seem to get out of their own end.   A couple of early off side penalties established my standards and the Bucks took control, only pausing to execute one of Australian rugby commentator Sean Maloney’s favorite moves, the Referee Falcon (look it up).   No harm done and a quick laugh later the Bucks were attacking again and this time got pay dirt – a converted try.   On the ensuing kickoff Iowa City put their best phases together to push into the Bucks half to get rewarded with a penalty on the 22.  Surprisingly, they opted to go for touch and then unsurprisingly lost the lineout.   I say unsurprisingly because the Ducks had not practiced their set pieces very much and both lineouts and scrums were a sore spot.   The Bucks gladly took possession and proceeded to dot down 4 more tries in the half, converting all but one to go to the break up 33-0.  

The second half was more of the same, with Iowa City using their lone sub in the front row at the intermission.   The new blood did not improve the scrums at all so there was more of the same in the second half.  The Bucks used their bench liberally getting as many players a run as allowed and never lost a step.  The Ducks’ cause was not helped by their left wing injuring himself (later found out it was an MCL tear) and being forced to play with 14 for the last 20 minutes.   Bremer County put across 3 more tries to post a final score of 52-0.

That being said, Iowa City never gave up, played hard and committed to everything.  The lack of practice was obvious and the lack of numbers hurt.  Both of these conditions can be corrected so I believe they will do much better in the reverse fixture.   Even with the lob sided scoreline both sides played hard but fair with no foul play.  It was a joy to referee.

Date: 08/17/2019

Kings Cross Steelers 44-22 London Scottish Lions
Location: Kings Cross Steelers RFC, West Ham, London
Referee: Preston Gordon

Having not reffed any rugby since April 28th, I was keen to get back on the pitch. During the summer it seemed like every time a sevens or tens tournament came up, I either had friends in town, other obligations, or I was out of town myself. But a new 15s season has dawned here, and the second half of August is just the very beginning of the journey through to May of 2020. This was the 27th match I’ve reffed for LSRFUR, and there will be plenty more to come – I’ve already got 3 more assignments on the calendar. I’ve also been promoted one level, which will mean higher expectations, more frequent challenging matches at level 8, and a new set of clubs to visit as the season evolves.

I got a good workout during this fixture, which was played over the course of three 30-minute periods in order to allow both teams to make use of all their players. KXS was having a big club day, with a barbecue going, an outside bar, a bake sale, and all 3 of their sides scheduled to be playing in front of the friends/family/supporters who numbered about 150. The visitors, from southwest London, were the amateur side of the club whose pros play in the RFU Championship (1 level below the Premiership). KXS are level 8, Scottish are level 9, so fairly close together. Weather-wise, it had been pouring all week and was forecast to continue on Saturday. I brought all my rain gear only to find that the sun was out and temps were in the low 70s, and the pitch was in perfect condition.

After the first period, things were very even at 10-12, with KXS opening the scoring with an unconverted try after 15 minutes. Scottish responded with their own at 20′, and each team got one more in the same order, at 26′ and 29′ (converted). The second period was very similar, with the teams trading one try each at 6′ and 10′, and KXS adding another at 22′. Scottish converted theirs, and surprisingly kicked a penalty to make the result 20-22.

The third period was where the storylines diverged, however. KXS had established dominance in the scrum early on, and this pressure led to one pushover try and a couple of penalties that led to large gains in ground. Scottish had a smaller bench, and/or newer players on, and this led to KXS scoring four tries in the 7th, 19th, 24th, and 31st minute (converting the last two, finally). Scottish had a couple of chances, but didn’t make it over the line.

The post-match atmosphere in the clubhouse (shared with East London RFC) was roaring, with the Argentina-South Africa match on TV. I shared a pint with the lads, chatted with the other ref present, watched some of the hijinks, and then hopped back on the tube to finish off a great day. The game had relatively few penalties, it was pretty fast, and played in good spirits throughout. It’s great to get back into it!

Date: 08/28/2019

Hendon 24-21 Harrow

Location: Allianz Park, Hendon, North London

Referee: Preston Gordon

Hendon, who will play this year in the Herts/Middlesex 1 league (level 9) hosted Harrow, who will be in London 3 NW (level 8),in my third preseason fixture. Instead of using one of Hendon’s two very nice grass pitches in front of their clubhouse, they hosted the match at Allianz Park which is just a few hundred yards to the north. Having been to both places before, getting there by train & uber in time for the 1930 KO was pretty easy.

The teams decided to play three periods, with mostly first teams contesting the first and third, and the second being contested mostly by the second teams. I think each team had a few of their colts playing as well. Despite some threatening skies, the weather was nice, and the lights in this stadium are very effective after the sun goes down.

Somewhat surprisingly, Hendon were the stronger team in the first 30 minutes, scoring an unconverted try at 6′ which turned out to be all of it. Good defense on both sides and lots of ball movement made up the rest of the action, but at 5-0 there was no other scoring.

In the second period, the scrums were a struggle to manage because of Harrow’s dominance. I had to spend a lot more time than I would have preferred getting the engagement sequence right, and keeping it safe for all players. This meant that I had less attention to give the backlines, who began to close down the 5m space. The defenders were able to get to the ball carriers faster than they should have, which naturally slowed the game down somewhat and led to an increased level of player frustration. Being a preseason match, I was less inclined to penalize people as much as I probably should have been, in hindsight. There were only a few occasional moments of unkind words between the teams, and I didn’t lose control of the game, but I could have managed this a little differently for a better outcome. Regardless, due to Harrow having the clearly stronger team in the second 30 minutes, they scored two converted tries at 5′ and 20′, while Hendon only got one more unconverted at 30′, to leave things at 10-14 to Harrow.

In the third period, which was (oddly) 25 minutes, I was again less concerned with the scrums and better order was restored. Hendon scored a converted try at 11′ to retake the lead, but were then leapfrogged by Harrow with a converted try four minutes later, leaving Harrow up 21-17. Hendon, however, had the last word with another converted try at 20′ to finish ahead three points at 24-21.

The score was probably less important to these two teams than having a decent preseason challenge, which I think they each got. I also got a decent preseason challenge, and as we all try to do, learned a couple of things about refereeing during the game. And having a run on the Allianz Park pitch on a Wednesday evening under the lights is never a bad thing either.

Date: 08/31/2019

Brentwood School Tournament

Location: Brentwood School, Essex

Referee: Preston Gordon

The school’s Director of Rugby invited 9 other schools to this corner of Essex for a day of hard-hitting and very fast U18 rugby. These were the first teams (mostly) of each of the schools, who played a round-robin of 4 20-minute matches on two perfectly manicured and totally flat pitches. The groundskeeper was even kind enough to cut the grass slightly shorter along each of the lines on the pitch, so that it was easy to know where the ball was after it was kicked 40m and was still bouncing. It’s one of the great little touches that I’ve only ever seen at English schools with decent rugby sides (and, obviously, knowledgeable groundskeepers).

The weather was in the mid-70s and sunny before the first match kicked off at 1000. I was on the sheet to referee four, but only did three because the two schools scheduled to play in my last one (near the end of the day) had both packed up and disappeared by then. Once I realized what had happened, I made myself useful by ARing the last two matches of the day. These were the results in the matches I reffed:

Colchester 5-12 Richard Hale

Colchester 12-19 Ipswich School

Brentwood 0-31 Royal Hospital School Ipswich

The quality, size, and speed of these players was impressive for a preseason tournament, and not surprising given that this was a level 8 assignment. At the moment, I’m scheduled to referee a full 15s match at Brentwood School again on 9/14, and am looking forward to another 80 minutes on their outstandingly well-kept pitch. That one will be a league match against another good rugby school from Kent.

One possible small world moment: I’m not certain if this Colchester school was the same one I reffed almost 11 years previously against Moulton College while on exchange to the East Mids (see http://pelicanrefs.blogspot.com/2008/10/three-weeks-no-beak.html) but it would be pretty cool if it was!

Date: 09/07/2019

Staines 5-86 Weybridge Vandals

Location: The Reeves, Snakey Lane, Feltham

Referee: Preston Gordon

This fixture was my fifth and last preseason appointment, and it featured a couple of unusual occurrences. It was in LSRFUR’s west region instead of the north region where I am based. Hannah and Robert were kind enough to allow me to play in their sandbox, which I requested to do because both Joel Rubin (sporting a Bald Eagles jacket and a classic NCRRS jersey) and my mom were flying into Heathrow that morning, and coming to watch the match which was just a few miles southeast of the airport.

The weather was forecast to be very rainy, but it turned out to be a perfect day for rugby, with sun, some cloud cover and temps in the mid 60s. Staines offered some of the best referee hospitality I’ve ever seen anywhere, starting with their fixtures secretary calling me earlier in the week with all the relevant information, continuing with both coaches seeking me out to welcome me upon arrival, followed by an iced tub of beverages and a personalized letter in the changing room laying out the timing of prematch formalities (and, of course, the usual post-match food & drink). Their clubhouse and pitch are in great shape, and their efforts to make me feel welcome and well looked after were much appreciated!

For the 2019-2020 season, Staines will play in the Herts/Middlesex 2 league at level 10, while Weybridge Vandals will be in London 3 South West at level 8. A gap of two levels isn’t that unusual in the preseason here, and Weybridge were promoted from the Surrey 1 level 9 league after finishing in the #2 spot last season, while Staines were relegated from the Herts/Middlesex level 9 league after finishing at the bottom of that table last season. So I was hoping that this match of four 20-minute quarters with mixed first/second teams from each club wouldn’t be too one-sided.

We kicked off shortly after the U17 match concluded, with a crowd of 100+ onlookers. It took Weybridge just two minutes to score their first try, with another one two minutes later, converting both to race out to a 14-point lead. The match then settled down, with some good rugby being played by both sides. It seemed to me that both teams were testing out different tactics on offense and defense, and both were pretty well drilled. Staines allowed another try to leak through at 18′, although this one wasn’t converted, leaving the score 0-19 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, things were largely similar, but with more 2nd team players on the pitch. Weybridge opened the scoring at 27′ with an unconverted try, before Staines broke through to score their only try of the day in the 11th minute (conversion missed). Weybridge added two more converted tries at 16′ and 22′ to end the half ahead by 33 points at 5-38. I headed back to my changing room to enjoy some well-chilled coconut water and Lucozade, waving to my entourage along the way.

The second half began with Weybridge scoring in the 4th minute, and again at 49′, 56′, and 61′, but their kicker missed all but the last one. With the score now at 5-60 and Staines running out of players, the challenge for me was to maintain high energy levels to keep up with the frequent breakaway tries while ensuring the game was being played safely. Aside from a couple of penalties for high tackles or contact off the ball, there was no foul play to deal with, so I tried to manage the breakdowns by arriving early enough to use my voice to prevent infringements.

The fourth quarter began to degenerate when we went to uncontested scrums due to Staines last prop taking a knock and going off. After Weybridge scored three converted tries in the first five minutes, the captains and coaches decided that Staines’ restart kick would be the last play of the day. The upcoming season is a long one, and I wasn’t about to argue or suggest that they play the full 80 minutes: both sideswere happy and had accomplished their goals for the day. So, about three minutes after that restart, Weybridge worked the ball up the pitch and scored again, but missed the conversion. The match ended, wisely, just short of 70 minutes.

After shaking hands with everyone and clapping the teams off the pitch, I got Joel’s take on my day’s work. That was appreciated, especially since he hadn’t evaluated me for perhaps 10 years. We got a photo together, with one of the NCRRS touch flags I used, and then I headed off for a shower. This excellent outing – one of my favorites here – was capped off with one pint that I wasn’t allowed to pay for, and enough time to catch up with Joel in the clubhouse. Naturally, if anyone else from NorCal happens to show up at Heathrow and I know in advance, I’ll try to arrange similar suitable entertainment. Good luck to both these teams in the upcoming season!

This Week’s Photo

Pelicans showing up in Iowa

Hail, Pelicus!
For the Senate
Pelicus Pedem Referre