Rugged and revered, Rugby tackles Cebu

Football is the world’s most popular sport. That we know. And, in 49 days’ time, we’ll be witnesses to the World Cup in South Africa, the single biggest event (more than the Olympics) on this planet.

Rugby? Ever heard of it? Sure you have. Maybe you’ve seen those muscular, rugged Spartans jumping on each other in ESPN. That’s rugby. As defined by Dictionary.com, Rugby is “a form of football, played between two teams… that differs from soccer in freedom to carry the ball, block with the hands and arms, and tackle, and is characterized chiefly by continuous action and prohibition against the use of substitute players.”

That’s rugby. Worldwide, it’s huge. In fact, the Rugby World Cup (also held every four years) is, based on estimates, the world’s third largest sporting tournament, behind only soccer’s World Cup and the Olympic Games.

In Cebu? Yes it’s gaining a loyal following. Thanks to Damien Allison, a friend whom I’ve known the past year and who’s the team captain of our local squad, the Cebu Low Flying Dragons.

Damien, who’s British but has resided in Cebu the past five years (13 total in the Philippines), talked about his sport in our land. “Cebuanos definitely have a future in rugby,” he said. “The Cebu Dragons were founded fewer than five years ago. Since then, 13 players have gone on to represent the Philippine Men’s National team. Cebu’s ladies team, the Pink Dragons, are the reigning National Champions and a number of players are expected to be selected for the Philippine National Ladies team for the Asian Championships in China later this year. Many Philippine National team players will be on show this Saturday representing Cebu and Manila. The sport continues to grow, especially with the recent announcement that Rugby 7s has been included as an Olympic Sport.”

That’s terrific news. But here’s an even better announcement: Two days from now, this Saturday (April 24), a major event is happening nearby. At the Cebu International School (CIS) grounds in Talamban, over 100 rugby players will fly into Cebu to compete in a major tournament: the 2010 ML Kwarta Padala Cebu 10s Rugby Festival.

“This Saturday,” said Damien, “we start at 9 a.m. with the final concluded by 4 p.m. There will be plenty of fast, full contact action.”

Full contact action. If you’ve watched rugby on TV, yes, that’s what we see: brawny men, without padding or helmets, sprinting to the end goal-line, tackling and blocking.

Who are expected to join this weekend? The 2009 winners, the Manila Nomads. So will the contingent from Hong Kong, the Tequila Mockingbirds, who will be fielding two teams. From Manila, there are two squads: the Alabang Eagles and the all-Japanese (and aptly-named) Manila Hapons. From Cebu, we have the Gustavian Cebu Dragons, Overgaard-CALT Low Flying Dragons and PimeSoft-PrimeLine Komodo Dragons.

“Entrance is free,” said Damien, whose Cebu Dragons team is supported by ML Kwarta Padala, Overgaard, The Gustavian, Calt Asia, PrimeSoft, PrimeLine, Rudy Project, POW Designs, Radical Ads, Philinsure, The Sports Exchange. “Food and drink will be available on sale throughout the day, catered by the Gustavian. Rugby always generates a fantastic atmosphere and is a brilliant spectacle, especially for those who have not seen the sport before. Support your local rugby club and witness some bone-jarring hits, ferocious tackling and plenty of lightning fast scores.”

This Saturday’s festivities actually begin tomorrow. “The ML Kwarta Padala Cebu 10s will start at the official Meet & Greet on Friday from 7 p.m.” he said. “The party will be at the Sports Exchange Bar & Grill on the top floor of Mango Square Mall. Free parking is available on the top deck. The Awards Ceremony will be held on the Saturday after the final from 5 p.m. at the Tap Room Pub in The Gustavian Banilad. There will be a beach party going on with curry buffet dinner and DJs playing into the night. All spectators are welcome to join and meet the players at both venues.”

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