Merlins Selects Team Takes Plate Final At Aspen Ruggerfest

by | Sep 17, 2018 | Club News

Hot on the heels of a crossover camp that attracted national athletic talent to Glendale, the Merlins Selects side traveled to Aspen for the 51st annual Ruggerfest tournament. Comprised almost solely of former professional and inter-collegiate athletes playing competitive rugby for the first time, the week long camp provided a crash course in rugby fundamentals prior to last weekend’s tournament.

Merlins Selects

Photo by Sara Wright

More than a dozen hand selected athletes traveled to Glendale ahead of the tournament, representing a number of disciplines. With former college and professional American football players, track and field athletes, and a former Olympic bobsledder in the mix, few had previously stepped foot on a rugby pitch. Following extensive coaching and team building at the Glendale camp, the Selects side traveled to Aspen, playing their first match against Boulder Rugby Football Club. The Merlins came out strong, leading 12-5 at halftime, but ultimately being edged out by the Boulder side, 26-17. Despite the loss, the team made an impressive showing in their first-ever match.

Glendale next took on the Dark n’ Stormy Misfits. The Selects took their second loss to the Denver team, but Head Coach Mark Bullock wasn’t deterred, noting that his squad looked good given their inexperience: “the Misfits have stocked their team with international, national, and professional rugby players, and there are a majority of our players who just played their second game ever. They are doing very well.”

Making the necessary adjustments, the Merlins redeemed themselves in the day’s final match, besting Boulder Rugby Club 21-10, and earning a shot at the Plate title, challenging the Heart of America Collegiate Program for that distinction. Mickey Bateman, who plays scrumhalf for the professional Glendale Raptors, assisted Director of Rugby Mark Bullock in coaching over the weekend, and was very impressed with what he saw: “They look like they’re doing drills. These guys have almost no context for what good rugby looks like . . . but they’re still producing it.” The Selects took an early lead over the Heart of America side, entering the halftime break ahead 19-0. The second half saw the rugby newcomers demonstrating that they’d found their stride, the Merlins taking home the Ruggerfest Plate with a decisive 63-7 win.

After scoring his first try ever in the Plate Final, former Louisiana State University offensive tackle Fehoko Fanaika was all smiles. Playing in just his fourth rugby match, Faniaka, who is listed at 6’6” and 340 lbs, was breathless, but couldn’t hide his grin: “This is great. It’s my first time out here, first time scoring. I can’t breathe, but it was fun.”

The American rugby world may soon have its collective breath taken away as well, as Glendale continues to attract and recruit talent from across the athletic spectrum. World-class facilities and coaching staff beyond compare draw those who want to compete at the highest level, and as this weekend’s tournament in Aspen illustrated, Infinity Park remains rugby’s American home for the foreseeable future.