The USA Rugby South All-Star team will be playing the Mexican national team in a 1 p.m. game Saturday at Life University.
Unlike an international exhibition, Saturday’s game will count as a first-round match in the North American Caribbean Rugby Association tournament, as the NACRA seeks to crown a season-ending champion.
Tickets for the event cost $5.
The NACRA is the governing body for teams in North America and the Caribbean and currently includes teams from the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. The Turks and Caicos and Curacao are associate members.
According to USA South Rugby forwards coach David Conyers, USA South comes into Saturday’s game ranked seventh in the NACRA, while Mexico is No. 2. The single-elimination tournament pits teams in a north-vs.-south format, and the champion will be awarded the Caribbean Cup.
“That’s why this game is so important,” said Conyers, a senior at Kennesaw State. “If we lose, we’re out of the tournament. Mexico is obviously one of the better teams in (the) NACRA, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
At least five or six Life rugby players will also be a part of the USA South team.
“They’re some of our younger guys and second-string guys who don’t get as much playing time during the season, so this will be great experience for them,” said Dan Payne, Life’s director of rugby. “We hosted an all-star trial camp here back on Jan. 5 that had guys from North Carolina to Louisiana to Florida trying out for the team.
“Some of our guys made it, so they’ll be playing for the national team this Saturday and they’ll get to wear the USA colors. We’re very excited for them.”
The metro-Atlanta market, coupled with Life’s history of rugby success, made the university an ideal location to host the first-round NACRA event.
“They have the infrastructure and the history of holding events like this,” Conyers said. “They know what they’re doing.”
“We’re used to doing these things, and we get great support from the community and the administration,” Payne added. “USA Rugby reached out to us, and it was an easy opportunity for our guys to participate and not miss any school time. This tournament game just kind of kicks off the rugby season, which for us, gets going next week.”
According to Payne, rugby is a growing game in Mexico, where soccer is still, far and way, the most popular sport. Because metro Atlanta has a sizeable Hispanic population, the Mexican rugby team is expected to have a lot of support, so the U.S. team is hoping to have the same.
“The people and fans of Mexico can be very passionate and loyal about their teams,” Payne said. “This is a prideful game. The winner moves on and the loser is done. It should be a fun day Saturday with lots of sun after all these clouds and rain. It will be a good day to come out and support the team.”