American rugby fans will tune in Saturday to Bonney Field in Sacramento, California for the final match in the 2014 Pacific Nations Cup between the United States and Canada.
For them, it will be a chance to see the Eagles (the nickname of the US National Rugby Team) battle against their northern neighbors, who have taken the last seven against the Americans (USARugby.org).
For Sacramento, it will be the first rugby event at Bonney Field, home of the recently established and popular Sacramento Republic Football Club.
For the national team, it’s an opportunity to close out their summer series and IRB Pacific Nations Cup campaigns on a high note.
And for some of the Eagles, it’s a chance to come home to northern California.
Full-back Blaine Scully, prop Danny Barrett, hooker Derek Asbun, prop Eric Fry, fly-half Folau Niua, prop Patrick Latu, back row player Samu Manoa, wing Tim Maupin, fly-half Toby L’Estrange, center Thretton Palamo and lock Lou Stanfill all hail from the area.
I caught up with Palamo, the youngest man to ever play in an IRB World Cup, and Stanfill, a graduate of Jesuit High School, at a Serevi Rugby camp held here in Sacramento to talk rugby, travel and the capitol city.
Ben: What were your early rugby influences from northern California?
Thretton: My brothers and my dad all played here when I was little, and so I used to watch them play. I used to play for the Sacramento Lions and after that I moved to (San Francisco) Golden Gate, and rugby just took off after that.
Ben: It seems like to me, rugby is a sport that gets passed down more than others. It seems to be very family oriented. Would you say that’s true?
Thretton: Yeah, the rugby community is pretty strong, but it’s also pretty small. You meet so many good friends that were in the beginning your teammates but are now your closest friends. It’s so common to be with somebody’s son where our dad’s played together.
I played against somebody in New York, and his dad came up to me and shook my hand and said “I used to play with your dad.”
Ben: And you didn’t even know?
Thretton: Yeah, pretty cool, that stuff’s always happening.
Ben: You travel all over the world. Is that one of the most rewarding parts of playing your sport at a high level, getting to go experience different places?
Thretton: Yes, it’s really cool. The benefits of rugby is you’ll go somewhere for a week, and one day out of that week you’re obligated to actually experience the culture that you’re in. It’s through IRB, the International Rugby Board, and they pay for that day’s visit. So if we’re in South Africa, most of the time they’ll take us to a safari and it’s on them. If we’re in France, in Paris, we’ll go to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre and it’s on them. That’s what they want, they’re trying to push us to experience the culture while we’re there, not just play a game.
Also, what’s so unique about rugby, every country that does play, that’s a tier one nation, their rugby’s based on the sports they grew up playing. For instance, France they play soccer, so when they play rugby they’re very influenced with kicking the ball. So they’ve developed ways with kicking the ball where it’ll curve this way, or on the ground it’ll curve that way. Australia’s pretty big with basketball, so you’ll see guys throwing the ball with these fancy basketball passes. Everybody’s got a unique style to their game, depending on what other sports they grew up on, really cool.
Ben: That intersection between sports and culture is really cool, especially to see it within the game.
Thretton: That’s what so unique, cause you know playing football, it’s one-dimensional, everyone knows football in America, right? But they only base in on what they know in American sports.
But whatever New Zealand thinks they know about rugby, they’re in their own little box, their mentality. But then England has a whole different perspective of it. So there’s always different elements that you can bring to the game, it’s always cool to see.
Ben: What’s your favorite spot to eat at in Sacramento?
Thretton: It’s probably, Dos Coyotes now. I went to school in Davis so they had a Dos Coyotes out there, but now there’s a few out here. I’ve always been a Dos Coyotes fan (laughs).
Ben: What has been the coolest place you’ve played internationally?
Lou: I played a couple seasons in Italy, and that was really special. Italian culture is real old, real deep, and that was different for me because of the whole different language and as far as translating that into rugby and understanding what the coach says was really special for me.
But as far as a tourist with the USA national team, I really enjoyed going to Japan. Japan is a culture that is far different from anything in America and so that was really enriching for me.
Ben: What are some of your favorite things about Sacramento?
Lou: They say home is where the heart is and I love Sacramento with all my heart. Anything from the weather, friends and family, to this bursting new Sacramento pride that is saturating and becoming very evident in our sports and art and culture. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I do live somewhere else right now, and I enjoy Seattle, but my home is always Sacramento.
Sacramento is one of a kind. Northern California, best place in the world.
Ben: Your favorite spot to eat in Sacramento is?
Lou: If I’m going to go out for a nice meal, Morton’s is good, but I enjoy Dawson’s Steakhouse. You can’t pass up on Fat City in old Sac, they’ve got the best French Onion soup. But any sandwich spot I’ll go to, and I’ll always be happy.
Ben: Do you think that rugby is a sport that lends itself to maturity more than other sports?
Lou: Absolutely. Rugby’s a game of responsibility and accountability of your role on the field and to your teammates. Whereas in football, you’re very confined, you have to take care of your job. In rugby, your job is backing every single one of your teammates at any given point on the field, and that changes. For me, when it comes to sports, very few sports compare to rugby because of the all-inclusiveness. You got to be able to pass, you got to be able to catch, you got to be able to run. It’s very much, like I said, a personal accountability driven game.
Ben: Rugby, at least from my limited perspective, requires you to be more complete than other sports. In baseball, you can be a left-handed specialist, and come in to get one out. There’s nobody that can do that in rugby. You have to be able to do several things well to be successful.
Lou: Absolutely. And everyone has their skill set. Mine is not goal kicking, throwing long passes, and scoring lots of tries. Mine’s the grunt work, but I do that to the best of my ability, and when I have make the pass I’ll make the pass. Hopefully nobody calls on me to kick. I’ll do that, but it’s not going to be very good (smiles).
Ben: What’s the greatest joy rugby has given you? Cause you’ve had various wins at prestigious stages but than you have something like coming out here and giving back to a community. It’s very broad in terms of the joy you must get.
Lou: Absolutely, you have wide ranges of joys and wide ranges of despair and sadness. In my joy, the biggest thing I can come across is you have a family, and I have my rugby family. The guys I play on the field with, I would do nearly anything for those guys. I would do anything for my brother as well. You go through 80 grueling minutes with each other, time after time after time, there’s a special bond built there.
Additional information on the match can be found here: http://usarugby.org/mens-eagles-news/item/eagles-set-eyes-on-sacramento-canada
Purchase tickets here: http://usarugby.org/usa-v-canada#2014=usavcan
Special “thanks” to USA Rugby, Lou Stanfill, Thretton Palamo, Matt Eason, and Noah Justin.