The last weekend in August saw your local rugby team, The Charlotte Royals, compete in the largest international rugby tournament in the world when they traveled down to Australia to play in the Bingham Cup. This was the team’s second foray into international rugby play after the 2012 Bingham Cup, hosted in Manchester, England, and came in third in their division. This year, the team looked to improve that result after completing some of their most successful seasons in team history over the past two years. However, that task would prove to be quite difficult after the league organizing committee placed Charlotte in the top tier group against the best gay rugby teams IGRAB (International Gay Rugby Association and Board) has to offer.
Charlotte arrived in Sydney with 18 players, all varying in ability and experience. The team learned in Manchester in 2012, that that many players would not be enough considering the grueling physical grind that a third day, six-game rugby tournament can have. So, before the tournament, Charlotte agreed to combine resources with the Atlanta Bucks. Their 13 players gave Charlotte enough man power to make it through the Cup, but chemistry would still be an issue for the players after only having three team practices heading into pool play.And, then they found out who they were going to play…
The Royal Bucks (as they then became called) were placed in group where they would have to play past Cup champions Gotham Knights and King’s Cross Steelers from London. For their final match up in group play, Charlotte faced the B side of host city Sydney Convicts. Every match would take a perfect effort to defeat these heavily experienced and favored teams.
Rain. Rain. And, more rain. That was the scene at the Rose Bay Fields in Northeast Sydney. Fields strewn with massive puddles, players covered in mud from head to toe and people in the crowd decked out in ponchos, rain boots and umbrellas as far as the eye could see. These were not the ideal conditions for anyone, much less a Royals-Bucks team that relied heavily on their quickness and agility to score and disrupt offenses. But, with excitement of the event palpable all around, the team was ready to take on the vaunted King’s Cross team, one of the few favorites to win the Cup.
It did not take long to see why the KC Steelers were as respected as they were as they sliced through the Royal Bucks team defense early and often. Before they knew what hit them, Charlotte was down 22 at the half. The team regrouped and played solid defense for 10 minutes into the second half, but it was not enough to keep the Steelers at bay much longer. Kings Cross took the game 57-0.
Next up was the 2010 Champions, the Gotham Knights. The team from New York City was led by three dominant forwards at the back of their scrum and every time things seemed to break down, one of three were able to find the ball and score. But, in this game, Charlotte was able to flash some signs of life on offense, with a couple break-through runs down the sides, unfortunately not resulting in any scores. Gotham won, 38-0.
On day two, the Australian teams kept showing off their speed, power and experience as Melbourne Brisbane, Sydney A, B and C, only lost two games during pool play. One of those wins happened Saturday morning as the Sydney B side rolled through Charlotte 46-0. The immense talents and depth of the host country’s teams was really on display from start to finish. And, after day two was over, Brisbane and Sydney looked poised to battle each in the tournament final.
Charlotte finished their tournament on Sunday, the only day it did not rain in Sydney, and you could see when the sun shined bright, why this city was one of the most beautiful in the world. New Zealand was the team’s final competition. The one bright spot of this matchup was when the Royal Bucks got to experience their first Haka, a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge from the Maori people of New Zealand that is performed before every match by the Kiwis. New Zealand won 34-7.
In the tournament final, the defending champion Sydney Convicts took on the Brisbane Hustlers, a team that had beaten them on their home city soil just earlier this year. But, right from the opening whistle, everyone could tell the Convicts had something to prove and they were not about to let another city’s team take home the ultimate prize. It was 26-0 at halftime and 31-0 at the end. Sydney’s goal had been accomplished. They defended their crown and their land.
This tournament and the IGRAB organization, as much as it is in existence to provide gay men a place to play rugby in an environment that is comfortable for all people, is extremely important for the advancement of equal rights around the globe. The work the organizers, sponsors and players do to champion a cause like this is immeasurable. Charlotte president B.J. Smith extended sentiments on the support of the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, saying “to thank the LGBT fund, without their funding our participation would not have been possible. It was a great atmosphere in general, mixed with competition and inclusion without fear of persecution because of someone’s sexuality.” Team Captain Danny Wadsworth added: “This was the culmination of two years of hard work by everyone involved with the Royals. The sport has shown that its inclusiveness has grown exponentially, not just in Charlotte, but in the South as a whole, creating a warm and open environment for everyone to compete in.” I’d have to say this year was a success.
For more information about the Bingham Cup, the results, and how to participate, check out their website at binghamcup.com. : :