The Bingham Cup is the largest amateur international rugby tournament in the world. That’s right, in the world. And, this year, the Charlotte Royals joined in on the fun and went to Manchester for a cold, wet weekend of rugby, camaraderie, brotherhood and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in jolly ol’ England.

The biennial gay tournament has been held since 2002, when San Francisco hosted the first cup with a total of eight teams competing. In 2012, 39 teams, in three tiers, fought for their respective trophies. That’s 11 countries, three continents and 1,000 players, coaches and supporters from all over the world.

From left to right: Coty Webb and Alex Mauldin

The Royals competed in the second tier of the tournament, made up of 16 teams with mostly moderate experience. Round-robin play began on Friday, June 1, with two 40-minute round-robin games. That morning, Charlotte met five players, from the U.S., Denmark, Canada and Australia, who had been assigned to them from the tournament’s board to give them some substitutions for the three-day event. New players, new countries — no problem.

First up for Charlotte was Straffe Ketten (SK) from Belguim. A relatively new team, SK provided a good opening game match up for the Royals, looking to get their feet wet in their first international game, let alone tournament. The game started a little sluggishly, with both teams trying to get a feel for the other. Then about 10 minutes into the first half, the backs for Charlotte broke through after a couple of penalties lead to the flyhalf and captain of SK to be sent off with a yellow card. Less than a minute later fullback, Phillip Butterfield slashed up field and scored on a handoff from flyhalf Thomas Southerland. Then flood gates opened, with Belgium not crossing midfield for the rest of the game. At the end, the Royals walked away with a 26-0 win and a big boost of confidence for the rest of the tournament.

Box Score: Butterfield (7 pts.), Southerland (5 pts.), Hoppel (14 pts.).
Man of the Match: Jon Hoppel

Next up for Charlotte was the tier 2 tourney favorite, King’s Cross B side of London. It was a much tougher test and it would tell whether the Royals’ first game performance was for real or just a fluke. Both teams came out ready and played to a stalemate the first 10 minutes. Charlotte got on the board first with a penalty kick conversion from 35 meters out, 3-0. But right before half, King’s Cross took control of the ball and pushed down field for a long methodical drive that ended in a try. In the second half, the teams traded scoring tries, leading to a 12-8 with 7 minutes left in the game. The Royals gained momentum the longer the game continued, but ran out of time before they could score again and take the game. It was a tough loss, but if any loss could give you confidence heading into the next match, it was one like that. A physical, hard-fought game against one of the better gay rugby teams in the world that came down to the very end before it was decided.

Box Score: Southerland (5 pts.), Joseph Boswell (3 pts.).
Man of the Match: Phillip Butterfield

Day two saw the Royals facing off against their third and final team from the round-robin section, the Newcastle Ravens from England. The top two teams, in each of the four groups, advanced to the winner’s division of the tournament. This meant Charlotte needed a win after going 1-1 the day before. Newcastle, coming off two losses, was playing for pride. And, that they did. Most of the game was spent in Newcastle’s half of the field, but they were resolute in their defense and the Royals couldn’t get on the board. The game went to half with the teams tied at half, 0-0. Ten minutes in the second half, Charlotte finally got on the board with a try and then a penalty conversion. That would prove to be all the Royals needed, winning their second game 8-0.

Box Score: Coty Webb (5 pts.), Butterfield (3 pts.).
Man of the Match: Coty Webb.

Charlotte entered the elimination phase that afternoon as a number-two seed, after King’s Cross won the group with three wins and earned the top spot. They drew Los Valents from Montpellier, France, the winner of group two. This game would provide a different type of match for the Royals since the LCF played a much more finesse/kicking style game rather than the rough, plodding style of the other European squads. It took the Royals a little over half, to finally figure out how to attack the French team with a try coming from inside center, Zachary Anderson. When the final whistle blew, Charlotte had pulled out another 8-0 nailbiter, proving they can win close games against high caliber competition. The next game in the semifinals, Sunday morning, the Royals would play the only team to beat them, King’s Cross.

Box Score: Anderson (5 pts.), Butterfield (3 pts.).
Man of the Match: Joseph Boswell

From left to right: Coty Webb, Matt Soden, Zachary Anderson, and Thomas Southerland making the tackle

Sunday morning was a dreadful day weather-wise. Forty-degree weather and downpours of rain made for muddy fields and miserable conditions to play high caliber rugby. But, both King’s Cross and Charlotte were ready and played one of the best games of a long three-day tournament. King’s Cross had the early advantage — being from the U.K., they were used to the weather. Unfortunately in Charlotte, the parks and recreation department forbid anyone from using their fields if there is even a drizzle, so most of the Royals had never played in conditions like that. KC scored in the first five minutes, making it 5-0. They continued to put the pressure on the Royals, keeping the ball firmly planted in Charlotte’s end. But, the Royals showed tremendous heart and will in keeping the London squad out of the try zone, even as they threatened on the door step, for a straight 10-minute stretch right before half.

Both teams carried over their intensity of the first half, with game ebbing and flowing between both ends of the pitch. Players from each side were making game-saving tackles on nearly every play since one mistake in these rainy conditions could easily make a score. Finally, after 38 minutes of playing to a stalemate, the King’s Cross team was able to put one more try up on the scoreboard, effectively putting the game out of reach. 10-0 was the final score, which meant the Royals ended their tournament in third place. King’s Cross, who were the only team to score against Charlotte the entire tournament and was only scored on by Charlotte, went on win tier 2 over the Melbourne Chargers fairly easily 16-0.

Man of Match: Phillip Butterfield
Man of the Tournament: Brian Henriksen

All in all, the Charlotte Royals exceeded all expectations, as did the tournament, and the city of Manchester. It was a phenomenal opportunity that led to earning the respect of our fellow rugby players, bonding with others from around the world over a great sport and representing the city of Charlotte to the best of their ability on the international stage. I am damn proud to have been a part of it. : :

Front row:  Jon Hoppel, Pete Norris, Pinky Stegall, Alex Aguilar, Devin Baez, Alex Mauldin, Jonathan Gordon, Matt Soden and Gus Ventura (asst. coach).
Standing:  Amanda Vestal (coach), Zachary Anderson, Joseph Boswell, Ruben Avila, William Howell, Brian Henriksen, Phillip Butterfield, Thomas Southerland, Coty Webb, Jason Sadler, BJ Smith, Nik Baksi, Henrik Sorensen, Frankie Brown and Adam Wood