SPRINGFIELD — West Farm Road 144. Not often where you’d expect to find flags from the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Ireland.
They all fly over the pavilion at the home pitch of the Springfield Rugby Club, visible from James River Freeway. In the tradition-rich Ozarks, it has brought men from across the world together since 1983.
"When you find someone who plays rugby, it’s hard to explain but it’s different. It’s a brotherhood,” youth coach William Scruggs said.
It looks like controlled chaos at first: massive men with mouth guards as their only protection slamming shoulder first into each other at full speed. But there is an art to it, and it’s drawn players from Australia, Kenya, and beyond.
“It’s cool to be in this melting pot and to see other people’s perspective on sporting, sportsmanship, and just their demeanor in general,” Springfield player Daniel Jester said.
It may not be a cult following, but there is something about the rarity of interested parties in the United States that builds a connection between players. There is a massive respect, given the ferocity of the game.
Tackling styles are implemented to prevent concussions and other injuries, but some incidents are unavoidable. One recent match had to be stopped for nearly 30 minutes as an ambulance arrived to cart off one player that had suffered a compound leg fracture.
But these fellows are of a different breed and gladly welcome the risk.
"The camaraderie is completely different. Instead of everybody being bitter about a loss and going home, we try to set an example for everybody else.”
That mutual respect creates a post-match atmosphere like none other.
"The opposing team, when it’s all over, we’ll hang out with them and have food and drink and literally sing songs together.”
The club’s main sponsor, Springfield Brewing Company, keeps the beer flowing at what becomes a party under the pavilion.
And as the merchandise says: rugby is on the rise. A women’s team was revitalized this year after a failed attempt in the late 1990s. There are U19 and U15 teams, the latter being only three years old and just held their first true home match in Springfield after repeatedly having to travel to Wichita.
Scruggs, a longtime player himself, said learning the sport is simpler than some may think.
'Basketball players, soccer players, and wrestlers pick it up really easy because it’s that constant flow and movement,” Scruggs said. “The hardest transition is actually from football. They’re so used to, when there is a tackle, they get a break, but in rugby the play keeps right on going.”
There are more plans for expansion, including a clubhouse that would turn southwest Missouri into a higher-tier hub for the sport in this part of the country.
“USA Rugby looks for places to hold tournaments, but in order to do that you have to have a clubhouse. We’ve got the plans all laid out for it and now we’re seeking grant money, donations, and sponsorships.”
In the meantime, they’ll welcome newcomers with cheers and open arms.