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Skill Rugby Tours Turks and Caicos

Posted by Schuylkill River RFC at Jan 7, 2021 7:46AM PST ( 0 Comments )
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Skill Rugby goes on an international tour every two years. Following our 2016 tour to Ireland and our 2018 tour to South Africa we went to Turks and Caicos in 2020. While it’s generally true that what happens on tour stays on tour we were able to trade notes with Brian Taylor (BT) and Austin Lucas (AL) to declassify some information and tell us a bit about the trip.

When did you fly in and how long were you there?

BT: We flew into Turks and Caicos (T&C) around 10:00 am on Friday (Feb 28th) morning. The gang carpooled on the way up to JFK. We had the target goal to leave Philly at 6:00 am however that got delayed due to Austin being extremely hungover and waking up late. Joe Lee also had to do his hair so that delayed our journey even more. Due to are lateness, Austin averaged around 95mph on 95 on the way to JFK. I feared for my life but we ended up making it to the parking lot where we were happily greeted by our fellow teammates to take the shuttle to the airport. The lines were crazy getting through security but once we cleared, we all met up for a couple of pints at the finest pub JFK offers and waited till the last second to board our flight.

Unbeknownst to everyone but me, my passport was scheduled to expire on March 3rd and our return flight was scheduled for March 2nd. Luckily, upon arrival at customs, Joe Midwig and I smooth-talked their TSA agent who was a vibrant and flirty T&C native and she did not give my passport expiration date a second look. I cleared customs and embarked on my first tour with Schuylkill in a foreign land.

AL: I agree with Brian about my flawless driving skills. COVID was just beginning to become a topic regarding flying and some already had masks as we waited forever to get thru security. Once in T&C they even had us declare on forms what exposure we may have had. Our return flight home was improved as we got to start it off with Round 2 of Kangaroo Court earlier on the beach. We essentially had to manipulate half of the tour to take the 1st van back, thereby allowing some of us those precious extra 45 minutes.

What were the accommodations like and what was the highlight?

BT: The accommodations were a bit tight but could not complain. We had 3 units right next to one another on the corner of the hotel property that faced inward to a pool. Since Carlo did not have a bed to share with his lady friend, he haggled with someone that owned an additional unit on the property and they got to stay in a whole unit by themselves. I got to share a couch bed with Cat Stevens and we both learned that we like to watch Netflix to fall asleep so we bonded over the Formula 1 racing series before falling into a deep drunken slumber

AL: The accommodations were quite ideal for us as a rugby tour. We stayed at the Island Club in “villas” rather than small rooms so we were able to stack 6 of us in with multiple bathrooms, a living area, and nice kitchen. We had three of these villas in a row so we all could easily congregate and hang out on our patios when the night was coming to a close. We had a solid pool within 10 ft that we thoroughly made our own and plenty of mini-iguanas running around to entertain us. The Island Club helped greatly in arranging accommodations that fit our particular needs. I think they would love to have us again.

What did everyone do on Friday? [Hang by the pool, team dinner etc]

BT: Once we arrived, we made our way to stock up on booze that was very expensive compared to prices in the U.S. We talked to locals, and they stated that is because there are no taxes in T&C so there is more money left in the resident’s pockets to purchase groceries and booze. Also, it’s an island in the Caribbean so this factored into the upcharge of alcoholic beverages. We hung out by the pool and got comfortable and once it was time, we got ready for our fancy dinner and all dressed up in our tour-issued Hawaiian shirts. Since we needed to take two different vans to the restaurant, the first group was tasked with ordering the appetizers which I took it upon myself to champion. It had to be light on the seafood because some members of the group, specifically Austin, do not enjoy food from the sea.

We had an extremely large budget for the dinner, so we spared no expense letting the cocktails and delicious food flow. The other patrons at the restaurant looked over curiously at our large group with a lot of questions about what we were doing on the island. “Is this a bachelor party?” “No,” we responded. “We are here to play Rugby,” we replied with Pride.

After dinner wrapped up, we went back to the accommodation where some people passed out, specifically Austin, and the rest hit the downtown to explore the bars and local nightlife. We were well situated near some happening spots and most of the crew danced the night away until closing time. Some people ended up on the beach but that is a story for a different day.

AL: I cannot differ from or deny Brian’s account of what happened.

Saturday was match day. Did you guys do anything before the match? What was the level of competition like and what were some highlights?

BT: Saturday morning, most of us went over to a nice breakfast spot across the street and quenched our thirst with some hair of the dog and a bit of water. After breakfast, we hung out in the sun until it was time to tour Turk’s Head Brewery. After our tour we got to sample all of the beers they make which are all named after local sayings and expressions such as I-Soon-Reach which in T&C means that you’ll be there soon but won’t really be there soon. You’ll get there when you get there is pretty much the gist of the expression. We bought tons of cases of beer from the brewery since it was much cheaper than the supermarket. Unfortunately what we thought was a lot ended up running out before Sunday began. After the brewery tour, we got back to the accommodation and had 45 minutes to relax before it was time to get ready to walk over to the pitch which was a 15 minute walk. The pitch had lovely grass and was in the middle of a bunch of vacant land on the island. Apparently it was built all from the funds of one rich dude from Canada who is the president of the club there.

The highlight for me was our approach to the pitch. We appeared in a narrow clearing out of nowhere all in our tour Hawaiian shirts blasting dreams and nightmares by Meek Mill on our highly powered portable speaker. It must have been super intimidating to the opposing team who watched in awe and terror as we approached the entrance to the field. The Turks team was extremely athletic with tons of speed. While they did not have tons of Rugby experience, their speed in the forwards and backs alike gave them an advantage over a not fully sober Schuylkill squad. The match was even in the first half as our forward physicality allowed us to be successful.

As we began to tire in the second half, their rotating subs and speed became too much for us to overcome. The 3rd half was great as they had a big barbecue right next to the pitch which had a clubhouse on it with tons of great local food. After chatting with them, we learned that their fullback is actually a sprinter for their Olympic team and their 8 man who was man of the match for them was a sprinter at LSU.

Another highlight was all of the people that showed up. You would think that they were all locals but I would estimate that roughly half of the crowd there was in attendance due to our promotion of the event on Friday after talking to all of the vacationing people that we met out. This was mainly due to Joe Lee telling every person that we came in contact with that we were playing a match and much to our surprise a lot of people showed up to watch. We hung out on the pitch for an hour or so and then walked back to the accommodation to get ready for another night on the town. It was also Becca’s birthday so we got a cake and candles for her from the supermarket and all celebrated together.

AL: Tiny spent his entire day fighting his crusade that we should not have scheduled any rugby on our rugby tour. Once we all enjoyed the Brewery Tour and began to walk to the pitch, a majority of the Club felt he was wise for his position. An ideal rugby tour to T&C should be dedicated entirely to Friendship.

Sunday was hanging out at the beach. How was that?

BT: Sunday was great having the match behind us so we could wind down and truly get after it all day. We took vans to a beach spot that had a restaurant right next to it. We noticed a cool gazebo-like structure that was reserved for people getting massages but we did not see anyone using it so we took it for ourselves. We hung there pretty much all day. There was a fishing dock which was a nice height above the water level which made it fun jump from the dock to the ocean. Every 15 minutes or so, Austin or Glatts would lead a charge of players down the dock to jump in the ocean together. It was quite the scene. There was also a lot of sand wrestling which occupied the time. Some of the Turk’s players met up with us and hung out at the beach. Two players, Davidson and Levardo, hung with us the whole time. They also drove us all back to the hotel and helped us source relatively-cheap booze for the kangaroo court. They chilled with us until kangaroo court was over and I’m pretty sure Davidson slept on one of the couches in one of our units.

AL: Prior to our get-together at the beach bar recommended by the T&C rugby club, a few of us went on a snorkeling adventure at a nearby resort. The water is incredible in T&C and you can see so many shades of blue as you look out. We were allowed to get near the reef but had to keep our distance due to conservation efforts. Still, we swam right through schools of various fish and even were within arm’s reach of majestic turtles. Truly Incredible.

What was Monday like?

BT: We had a hard check out time at 11:00am. Due to late-night activities during the early morning from kangaroo court, the owner of the establishment was less than pleased with us. However, we did our best to clean up and headed over to our breakfast place where we were now local celebrities due to our fame gained on the dance floor at the local establishments. As we checked out, it was nice to hear from the owner’s wife that she was happy with how clean we left the place and stated that we were actually one of the best-behaved rugby teams that have come through. She allowed us to store our big luggage there and then we proceeded to hit the beach. We landed right next to the ritz or some fancy hotel that had beach equipment laid out on the sand in front of their establishment. We commandeered this for a bit until we were asked to move because these chairs and umbrellas were reserved for guests of the hotel only. We hung out on the beach as long as we could and then caught a van ride to the airport and flew back to JFK.

Brian – This was your first tour with Schuylkill. What are your thoughts and what are you looking forward to for the next one in 2022?

BT: I have nothing but positive things to say about the tour. While it was my first with Schuylkill, I’ve gone on several tours with my team in Madrid in the past and this one ranks high up there with them. Austin, Joe, and Izak did a great job of organizing everything and it was nice to just throw them my money and have everything pretty much sorted. It was awesome to get to know some of the players on the team a bit better and also meet some new people for the first time. I’ll certainly be back for more tours to come; especially any that take place on islands :)

Austin – this makes 3 tours with Schuylkill for you. How do you feel that traveling with your teammates has helped build Club culture and what do you most look forward to on tour?

AL: Every International Tour includes the wildest mix of players. Ages, positions, maturity, depravity – the entire gamut is represented. The fastest ways to bond with your teammates is either bleeding next to them or travelling with them and these tours give you both. Our tradition of touring also helps build the credibility of our Club and recruiting fodder. When we travel to these countries, the locals are always so intrigued and supportive of everyone playing the game. Skill Rugby leaves an impact when they travel.

I look forward to the chance of these tours. I might never get a reason to travel to South Africa, but rugby and this club gave that, and I took advantage of it and will always cherish the memories. I now have three different countries under my belt that I likely wouldn’t have had otherwise. I cannot wait to choose what’s next and I hope they keep getting wilder, more unique. When you return from a tour, you always feel closer to those that went with you and you feel bonded and like you are part of a unique bunch on a club that is already overflowing with unique guys.

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On February 22, 2020 Schuylkill River Rugby hosted a 25th Anniversary Celebration which included players from the original 1995 team and up until the present day. The 1995 team collectively was inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Coach Holmes Harbson for the legacy that they created. Holmes helped establish three key principles for our Club that have been instrumental to our success through the years. They are (1) we will always compete at the highest level available to us, (2) politics will play no role in our selections and the best player will play no matter what, and (3) we will never forfeit a match regardless of level.

Following these principles paid off when we won the EPRU Division 3 championship in 1999 and advanced to the Elite 8 in the National Playoffs and followed that up by winning the EPRU Division 2 championship the following year and making it the National sweet 16. These back to back EPRU Championships gave us a unique status within USA Rugby as a team that advanced from Division 3 to Division 1 in a two year span.

Our first season in Division 1 showed that our rapid climb was no fluke when we earned a second place finish in MARFU (now called MAC) Division 1. Unfortunately, a one-point loss in the MARFU playoffs prevented the club from advancing to Nationals for 3 consecutive years in 3 different divisions but in just 7 years our founding members had built a club that would compete at the highest levels of USA Rugby for a long time to come.

Thanks to this foundation, which we have built on throughout the years, Schuylkill River Rugby stands as one of the 10 or less clubs in the United States who can say that they perennially qualify for Nationals in 7s and make the playoffs in Division 1 15s. We remain Philadelphia’s only D1 rugby team, we field multiple sides in league play, and we have several top 10 finishes Nationally between 7s and 15s to hang our hats on.

None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Holmes and the original 1995 team and for that we thank you guys!

Original 1995/96 team members in attendance:
Paul Allegretti, Chris Bailey, John Falco, Matt Hainey, Steve Hardeski, Jack Henderson, Dave Lebisky, Joe Lopez, Brian Mahony, Dom Malatesta, Nate McAtee, John McSherry, Tony Monocco, Matt O’Boyle, Tom O’Malley, Jack O’Neil, Chet Radecki, Chris Steinmetz, Kevin Stretch, Jim Sweeney, Kevin Wentling, Butch Zarrilli

Table Sponsors:
Butch Zarrilli, Dom Malatesta, Chris Bailey, Josh Mastromatto, John Hughes

Silent Auction Donors:
Rob Grasso – Round of golf at Whitemarsh Country Club
Liam Kelly – Dinner at Con Murphy’s
Jim Kernaghan – Round of golf at Philly Country Club
John Falco – Alcohol from around the world
Paul Alegretti – Sixers and Phillies tickets
Spoonie O’Neal – Dinner at O’Neal’s Pub
Carlo Sena – Overnight stay at Penn’s View Hotel/Panorama Wine Bar
Temple Men’s Basketball – Tickets to an Owl’s Home Game (shout out to Colin O’Shea for setting it up)
Ricky Schneider – Autographed sports memorabilia
Chris Bailey – Vintage rugby apparel
Cider Works – Gift bag

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Perry Bowers started his rugby career playing for the Downingtown Dingoes youth program. After graduating from Downingtown East High School, he then joined the United States Navy. During his time in the Navy, Perry played for Virginia Beach Rugby and was a member of the 2012 U.S Navy Select Side. After his tour of duty, he went to Temple University, where he received his B.S in Athletic Training and was also a member of Temple University Rugby Club. Perry has been playing for Schuylkill River for four years and is currently working on his Master’s degree in Sports Management from the University of Florida with a specialization in Athlete Development.

As the owner and athletic consultant of Always Delivering Fitness, Perry strives to help his clients meet their goals, whether they are professional, collegiate, or personal! In Perry’s view, Always Delivering Fitness is a lifestyle and no matter the fitness level or age Perry always delivers! With a special focus in injury prevention ADF Workout Sessions promote the extra edge you need in competition or everyday life.

Connect with Perry @PBtheATC4 on Instagram/Twitter for more information and workouts you can do from home during this time!

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Atlantis Rugby 7s, an invitational 7s rugby club whose mission is to encourage and develop American rugby by playing domestic and international tournaments, recently participated in the Rugby Barbados World 7s tournament, as well as the newly formed Freetail 7s tournament in Austin Texas and ended up winning both tournaments. The roster for the Barbados tournament featured six past or present Skill Rugby 7s players and the Austin roster featured Mitch Vannoy on the field and Coach Chris Ryan on the sidelines along with our friends from Dallas RFC, Chris and Lynn Howard. Ahead of these tournaments Atlantis released player profiles as part of their team announcement. The bios for our guys are provided below:

Tyler Barberi is a native of Damascus Maryland and currently resides in Baltimore. Prior to joining Towson Rugby he was also a collegiate wrestler. His first Atlantis tour was in 2013 and he has competed at Club Nationals in 7s with both Skill Rugby and Beltway Elite in addition to earning a spot in the City Select Tournament. Tyler currently plays 15s for Baltimore Chesapeake and was part of the inaugural season for Old Glory DC. When Tyler isn’t playing rugby he’s hanging out with Huck the bassador and likes fishing, golfing, and being outdoors.

Danny Giannascoli has been playing rugby for 4 years and first played 7s in 2018. He learned the basics from playing catch with his brother Matt Giannascoli before joining Loyola University of Maryland Rugby. He is a 2 time NSCRO All American and competed with the Collegiate All American side at RugbyTown in 2019. In 15s and 7s his Loyola squad has consistently placed in the top 3 Nationally for NSCRO over the past 3 years and he participated in the 2019 Bermuda International 7s tournament. This past summer Danny played 7s with Skill Rugby and earned a spot on the Dream Team at Club Nationals as the team finished 4th.

Mitch “Full Boar” Vannoy started playing rugby for Christiana High School before playing collegiately for Delaware Rugby. He is one of Atlantis’ most consistent players and is making his 12th appearance for us this weekend. Mitch plays 15s for Wilmington and 7s for Skill Rugby in Philadelphia where he is a co-founder of the Beefcake Bunker. You can also catch Mitch in The Nomads Movie.

Grayson Haynes originally started playing rugby in Italy where he attended Naples American High School in Campania before moving to McLean Virginia. During his collegiate days he played for Delaware Rugby and played 7s with Skill Rugby. He is currently a member of the Potomac Exiles and Beltway Elite. This trip is something of a homecoming for Grayson as his grandfather was born and raised in Barbados.

Jack Ramirez recently graduated from Loyola Maryland where he played 4 years of national small college rugby. His team made appearances at the national championships for both 15s and 7s, most recently finishing 3rd in the country at the 2019 NSCRO CRCs. Before that he was a standout for Roman Catholic High School. This past summer Jack began his rookie season with Skill Rugby in his hometown of Philadelphia. This is his first tournament with Atlantis and he’s looking forward to continuing to step his game up to the next level.

Brian Keown is a Philadelphia native who played high school rugby for St. Joe’s Prep before playing collegiately for South Carolina as an undergrad and briefly for West Chester as a grad student. During his collegiate years Brian played for the Skill Rugby U23 program before joining River fulltime where he is currently the Club Captain. Brian has made numerous appearances for Atlantis and recently helped Schuylkill River finish 4th at 7s Nationals.

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Schuylkill River Rugby had strong representation at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan with several different groups traveling throughout the country. We caught up with three of them to get their take on the event.

1. What cities did you visit and what was the atmosphere like in Japan for the Rugby World Cup?
Ben Janssen: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. The atmosphere was pretty incredible, I have never been to a sporting event that brings together so many different cultures and although there was a fair share of jabs at each others’ teams the overall takeaway was that rugby really brings people together. Bars in Japan are very different than America, mainly they are tiny so most of the time you stood in the street and peered into a bar to watch the game surrounded by people from all over the world who love rugby. I had no idea how big rugby is in Japan but the culture has fully embraced it and I saw plenty of locals wearing jerseys from all of the top countries, and being fans of the game, in addition to the Japanese national team.

Ian Glatts: We flew into Tokyo on the first day of the Rugby World Cup and from there travelled to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kobe, Shizouka, and back to Tokyo. We were constantly using the bullet train to get from city to city, which saved us a lot of travel time. In places like Tokyo and Osaka, the world cup was less apparent just because of the sheer size of those cities, but during game day there was no avoiding it. The stadiums were packed with people from all over the world.

One of my favorite memories was from after the France-Argentina game in Tokyo. We left the stadium and made our way to a hole-in-the-wall bar down the street to watch the South Africa-New Zealand game. Before you knew it, the bar was overrun with rugby fans from France, Argentina, Australia, UK, New Zealand, and of course Japan. By the end of the game, half of the patrons were watching from the street! In total, we saw three world cup games abroad: France vs Argentina, USA vs England, and Japan vs. Ireland. 12 days total spent in 7 different hostels. We were constantly on the run.

Sean Beuche: We started in Tokyo and visited Shinjuku and Yokohama where we saw New Zealand vs South Africa and Ireland vs Scotland. We then went to Kyoto, Osaka, and then Kobe where we saw USA vs England. Lastly we visited Hamamatsu and Shizuaka for Ireland vs. Japan.

2. We’ve heard stories of the Japanese people being incredibly accommodating to visitors and doing a great job of hosting this event. Can you tell us about that?
Ben Janssen: The Japanese were some of the nicest people I have met in my travels, they seemed genuinely happy to have tourists in their country and were extremely accommodating. That being said, they had no idea how to properly supply a large scale sporting event. Multiple bars I went to ran out of beer, the stadium lines were outrageous (sometimes over an hour long), and they had very few bathrooms or concession stands in the stadium. I have serious concerns for the 2020 Olympics when it comes to serving large crowds at sporting events. I assume the Japanese culture views sports in a subdued manner compared to other nations around the world and have some improvements to make to the stadiums in preparation for the large crowds of 2020.

Ian Glatts: The passion of the home crowd was a sight to behold. Every game had a mixed bag of tourists but without fail, Japanese fans came out in droves to support the world cup. Even when their team was not playing, you could feel the rugby love from the host country. Well done Japan.

Sean Beuche: The Japanese are a very quiet and respectful people that were incredibly gracious in the face of 19 other, often-rowdier, and less-gracious people descending upon their homeland to party and support their countries. I was blown away with how pleasant and agreeable the Japanese people were across the country even when the same respect or grace wasn’t returned.

Watching the Japanese upset the Irish in the countryside of Shizuoka was an unforgettable experience that exemplified good-sportsmanship and national pride.

3. Having seen this event in a non-traditional rugby country like Japan, do you think the USA is ready to host this event?
Ben Janssen: The US is much more equipped to handle the actual sporting event than Japan is due to our stadiums but the logistics outside the actual games would be more difficult. All the transit I was on in Japan reviewed instructions in Japanese then English to accommodate tourism and they welcomed outsiders and made us feel as comfortable as possible. By contrast, we are not very accommodating to tourism here. Additionally there was a large Japanese presence at the stadium, these people genuinely wanted to watch rugby. I am not sure the fan base is large enough in the US to host the event of this magnitude.

Ian Glatts: Next question.

Sean Beuche: hell yeah.

4. Which players and teams stuck out in terms of entertainment value?
Ben Janssen: Japan was exciting because they still have the underdog narrative even though they have beat the best teams in the world. It was a pleasure to see the joy their fans got from watching them. The USA continues to disappoint. It appears our coaching staff does not know how to capitalize on the strength of our players and instead tries to mold them into a style that pulls them out of their element.

Ian Glatts: The first game between France and Argentina was a real nail biter – France ended up beating the Pumas off of a drop goal in the final minutes of play. A tactical match from two well-coached teams set the tone for an exciting world cup. Although it was an honor to see USA play England, the match was nothing to write home about. The highlight from that match goes to Teti for making a row of English supporters feel extremely uncomfortable for mocking our national anthem. Needless to say, he did not make it until the end of the game.

Sean Beuche: New Zealand travels as strongly as any other nation I’ve seen, pound for pound. Ireland is always good craic, and USA is the best country in the world

5. What was your favorite moment of the trip?
Ben Janssen: Seeing the country was Amazing, Japan is a beautiful nation with lots of history. I enjoyed seeing the difference between Tokyo and the smaller cities, as well as all of the temples and castles. My favorite moment was dressing up as Pikachu and driving go-carts around Tokyo, the locals loved seeing our group and we got to see the ins and outs of the city at street level.

Ian Glatts: Japan beating Ireland. The game was played in a remote town called Shizuoka 3 hours outside of Tokyo. Imagine if the Linc was situated out in Lancaster and the broad street line was half as efficient- that’s pretty much what our commute was like. Japan played a near perfect game defensively and the pace was full tilt the entire eighty minutes. By the end of it, even an Irish fan switched his green jersey for a Brave Blossoms jersey (by the way, almost impossible to find one of those, they were selling them like hot cakes). Walking out of the stadium, we must have hi-fived a thousand Japanese fans and yelled Nippon the whole way home. Some of us even hopped on the wrong train out of sheer excitement. I haven’t seen that kind of defense since Brian Dawkins wore midnight green. What an incredible game.

Sean Beuche: When Ireland was upset by japan and the Japanese players bowed to the crowd.

6. Anything else you’d like to add?
Ben Janssen: If you are over 6ft you are going to hit your head….a lot. The food was outstanding but be prepared to hit a fast food spot or convenience store within an hour because the Japanese are very small and their food portions match their stature.

Ian Glatts: Go to Osaka, don’t eat traditional sushi in Kyoto, and go to Osaka. NII-PON!!!!!

Sean Beuche: You can buy beer at every vending machine kiosk and corner store and drink on the street, but there is no trash or litter to be found anywhere and no public trash cans