Crosstown rivals combine for success in rugby

By: Timothy Pontzer, | Troy Times | Published May 16, 2017

TROY — On a muddy field behind Larson Middle School, two bitter rivals unite.

The ragged pitch serves as the home for Troy United rugby, combining a roster of student-athletes from Troy High and Troy Athens.

“I am always really impressed with how this team takes our name to heart, how united they are,” said coach Rob Anderson, who has coached the team for seven years. “They become best friends. We’ve built a program that plays good rugby, but more importantly, really loves each other. We’ve grown to where we are because of that love.”

The roster is nearly a 50-50 split between Athens and Troy students, although that is quickly forgotten about out on the turf.

“In my entire time here, I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument,” Anderson said. “Sure, they tease each other about beating each other in wrestling matches. But at a practice, you couldn’t tell which kids are Troy and which are Athens. As a coach, that makes me more proud than any of the victories.”

The wins have piled up under Anderson, most notably with a Division 2 state title in 2013. That championship was in “traditional” rugby, which is played in the spring and features 15 players on each side. 

A more Americanized version of the sport is contested in the summer, pitting only seven players from each side. Troy United won a state crown in that arena last August.

This year, the club posted a 4-0 record in the regular season. 

“We have fantastic players and team leaders from both schools,” Anderson said. “We play clean and hard. Some of the kids we bring in have never even heard of rugby, but they come in and excel. That is part of the fun (of) teaching kids a new sport.”

Anderson pointed to his two captains as a duo that leads, teaches and recruits new players. Senior Jared York hails from Athens and junior Mattias Johansson is a Troy student.

“These two are wonderful leaders, a great example of what we’re all about here,” Anderson said. “Jared goes to his fellow football players and Mattias gets friends from Troy. I go to football, basketball, wrestling and tell parents that their kid should come play rugby. My wife often complains about how much time I do this, because it is a year-round thing.”

A center on the Athens football team, York also served as a captain there. He said he enjoys lining up with some of the same kids he faces on the gridiron.

“It is really cool to play against these guys in football that become your best friends,” York said. 

Johansson agreed.

“We’re a really close group, and we don’t care about the different schools. We want to play for each other,” he said.

The club sports red and black jerseys, borrowing from both schools’ colors. It is common to see teammates sit together at basketball games despite their differing allegiances. Anderson believes this reflects the foundation of his program.

“These kids pay no attention to where they’re from, because we’ve formed a true family,” Anderson said. “We have kids from Syria, Iraq and India. We’re really diverse. Black, white, Troy, Athens, it doesn’t matter. They don’t pay attention to that and it makes us all better for it.”

After the perfect regular season, Troy United earned the No. 1 seed in its Division 1 region, with the state tournament beginning May 20 in Hamburg Township.

“This team is unique for its unselfish play,” Anderson said. “Some of our best athletes are more interested in setting up their teammates to score than score themselves. That is a beautiful thing to see: players who catch the vision that rugby is a team sport. If we can play two full halves and eliminate the penalties, we will be in good shape for the playoffs.”