Asheville to Host Carolinas West Division Rugby Semi-Finals

Celebrating its 35th year, Asheville Rugby Football Club (ARFC) will be vying against Clayton Rugby Football Club of Clayton, N.C.  in the semi-finals of the West Division of the Carolinas Geographic Rugby Union (CGRU) this Saturday, April 14, at 1: p.m. at Carrier Park.

For the uninitiated, CGRU represents the rugby union teams playing in North Carolina and South Carolina. If ARFC secures a win against Clayton Rugby Football Club this weekend, they will secure their spot in the CGRU finals, to be played Saturday, April 21 – a prestigious and hard-earned title for the smalltown mountain team.

“The top four teams from the whole of North Carolina and South Carolina will be playing each other in the semi-finals this weekend to determine who will move on to the finals the following weekend,” said Coach, Frank Holly, “We remain undefeated this season and we’ll be playing Clayton Rugby Football Club from near Raleigh. They’re a new and upcoming club who are supposedly very strong, and it will be a good game to watch.”

Holly, who began playing rugby at the age of five in his native Ireland, took over coaching of the ARFC last year.

“I grew up playing [rugby] in Ireland and got into coaching a few years ago when I turned pro at golf and stopped playing rugby. When I moved to Asheville, I met up with the former coach, Patrick Dennehy, who owns City Bakery, and the coaching moved over to me,” said Holly.

“Asheville is a kind of satellite town where people come and go, so it’s difficult to get a cohesive team of players. We’ve been very lucky to put together 25 to 30 players that are a nice mix. A few years ago, the Asheville Rugby Football Club won this Carolina Championship, so we have a few of the remaining players from that team, with a strong mix of new players – many who haven’t played more than eighteen months. Most of our players are people who have come to the area and learned about the rugby team, and joined as a way to be social, stay fit, and do something competitive, whether they’re 20 or 40 years old.”

The mixture of experienced versus new, seasoned versus young, is a hallmark of ARFC. The team is always recruiting for individuals who may be interested in joining the team, or for the community to come watch a game and learn more about rugby.

“Asheville’s rugby club was set up more than 35 years ago and has been a very strong presence in this community,” said Holly. “Catawba Brewing Company and Creekside Taphouse have been two massive supporters and sponsors of us, helping us to promote the game of rugby in Asheville, and we have a strong community of former players who actively come back to Asheville to watch and support the current team.”

To Holly and the team, this weekend’s semi-final game is not only an accolade of the team’s skill and strength in the rugby community but also presents an opportunity for people in Asheville who have never seen a rugby game or who don’t know much about the sport to come out and learn more.

“We practice every Tuesday and Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Carrier Park, so if any joggers or walkers see a group of thirty men shouting and roaring in the middle of the field, they can now come out and see what it’s all about,” said Holly. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this sport or the team is a closed group. We’re always actively looking for new people to join – even this week, if someone wants to learn more, we invite them to come out to the field come out and see what rugby is.”

The winners of this weekend will proceed to the CGRU finals the following weekend, and will then move onto the southern championships hosted in Southern Pines in May. While the season concludes with the finals, the summer rugby sevens season offers opportunities to join the team, as well.

“For anyone wanting to join the sport, or watch more, after the end of this season, we kick up a summer season with what is called sevens rugby. Sevens is basically a really fast paced game of rugby with less people on the field, and a good way to learn the game over the summer. There are a lot of tournaments around the Carolinas that we travel to, so it’s really social and an introduction to the sport for anyone who has never played and would like to try,” said Holly.

The semi-finals will be hosted this Saturday, April 14, at 1 p.m. at Carrier Park (220 Amboy Road) at the fields adjacent to the bicycle track.

“We’re working very hard to get the game of rugby out into the community of Asheville and we hope to get a big crowd out at Carrier Park this weekend to see what the sport is like and support what we have going on.”

For more information about upcoming events and the team, please visit http://www.ashevillerugby.org , or to learn more about joining, please contact team recruitment officer, Jake Vertel at ashevillerugby@gmail.com

By Whitney Cooper