Most people have heard of the game of Rugby and may even know that American and Canadian football find their roots in the game which originated in the United Kingdom. However, the most recent popular exposure to Rugby in America probably came through the major motion picture “Invictus” about the life of Nelson Mandela and how he used the South African Rugby team to unite a nation. On the Kenai Peninsula a Rugby Renaissance seems to be underway thanks to the effort of Brendyn Shiflea, Kenai branch manager for First National Bank of Alaska (FNBA). “Actually there was a Rugby team down in Homer in the 1970’s and early 80’s called the Homer Irish Lords, but it disbanded as the team aged and there hasn’t been a team on the Peninsula for ten plus years so we started up the Kenai River Wolfpack Rugby Football team two years ago and we’re coming to fruition now,” Shiflea told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce recently.
Brendyn says he grew up playing backyard Rugby, “One of my friends father-in-law was from Australia and we started playing in the backyard when we were kids and then I played a little bit in college and have played up in Palmer and Anchorage when I lived up there and when I moved down here I met with some friends who have played before and we started up a team,” explained Shiflea. He feels the lack of interest in Rugby in the U.S. is primarily due to the fact that Rugby hasn’t been an Olympic sport for nearly one hundred years, “It hasn’t been in the Olympics since the 1920’s and the Olympics is something that drives popularity of any sport. If you can compete on a global level for an Olympic gold medal it creates a national following and I think that is the reason we see Rugby making a comeback of sorts in the U.S. because Rugby will return to the Olympics in 2016,” he said.
The Kenai River Wolfpack Rugby Football Club is now an official non-profit organization to promote Rugby on the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska. July 9th was the first tournament on the Peninsula with the next series of games scheduled for the Kenai Frontage Fields behind Louis’s August 13th with games starting at noon between teams from all over Alaska. For the layperson Shiflea describes Rugby as a combination of Soccer, American Football, and wrestling, “It’s a unique sport in that after the game you get together with the other team and share in the comradely or the sport and share in having a beer and talking about the game and everyone is friends afterward and that’s not something that happens as a tradition in other sports.
This is traditionally called the Third Half and is the embodiment of the traditions of rugby along with the drinking traditions like “shoot the boot” where you drink a beer from a players shoe.”
Anyone interested in a little backyard brawling or rugby can check out the Wolfpack games or try out for their team Brendyn says they need guys of all builds and skill levels, “There’s a spot for anybody on a rugby team you need big guys, small guys, fast guys, slow guys we need them all and in terms of coaches we kind of coach ourselves but we encourage everyone to come and enjoy and learn more about the game,” he said. Practices are usually Mondays and Thursday s at the Frontage fields at 5:00pm. Wolfpack sponsorship opportunities are available; anyone interested in supporting the local team can contact Brendyn Shiflea at FNBA in Kenai, “I have heard lots of talk (mostly from him) about his rugby skills. Not sure what rugby skills he actually possesses, however he is a good banker,” commented Charlie Weimer of the Soldotna FNBA