Pelicans vs Griffins...What It Means For Rugby

This Saturday the two select sides or All Stars for the two unions in California will take the field for the first time (U-23, women, men). This clash will feature the men’s and women’s first side Selects/All Stars from the Northern California Rugby Football Union called the Pelicans, and the Southern California Rugby Football Union, the Griffins.

The Pelicans and Griffins will square off this Sat at Peninsula Park on Balboa Island in Newport Beach (Home pitch for Back Bay Rugby). The U-23s will start the day of rugby with an 11am kickoff. The ladies action will start at 12:30pm. Then men’s sides will take to the field at 2:30pm to end the day. 

The Pelicans were resurrected last year (after 20 years off)  and have several matches under their belt, having faced off vs the Texas All Stars last year in Las Vegas, as well as a university touring side from England (Durham University) in the summer.  They’ve also had a few friendlies vs NorCal clubs like Life West.

The Pelican’s selection was done through a process where each club in NorCal (from PRP all the way down to DIII) was able to nominate players to the trials. From there, the players were tested, reviewed, assessed and put in scrimmages. In addition to the talent, the Pelicans also looked at the commitment and availability (as players had to travel every Sunday during the season to the Bay for practices). 

The Griffins program was reinstated this fall after a seven year hiatus. This match vs the Pelican’s will be their first formal match as a side. The Griffins selection was similar as the Pelicans in that clubs were asked to nominate a few of their players from their club who they believe were of an all-star caliber for a series of trials and scrimmages as well.  Nate Heiselt the SCRFU’s DI Representative and the Griffin’s Vice Captain told us that the nearly every team in the union sent players to trials (including SLO Rugby, Las Vegas, and a player from the D4 LA Rebellion made it far in the trials). The Griffin’s side has more players from DI clubs, but the Griffins are still representative of the Union with players coming from all over including a few from DII side Back Bay. Belmont Shore’s Ray Egan has been tasked with running the Griffin’s program, but the player selection was done by a number of coaches from various clubs to limit any bias.

Both the Pelicans and Griffins have first and second sides, with the seconds being focused on developing those players. For this match only the first sides of the men’s and women’s will take the field.  The selects aren’t intended to teach rugby, but to feature high level players and provide some tools to get them to the next level.

When the Selects/All Stars was reinstated at first it was seen as an opportunity to reward players, but to serve as a platform for players from the clubs  to also been seen by USA Rugby and bolster the Eagle’s pool.  This was a shift to a more provincial system that is more common in the southern hemisphere (with top players from local clubs then playing for a regional/provincial side) and from there possibly making national player pools. NorCal had begun to seek input from USA Rugby (in particular from Alex Magleby) on how they could develop the Pelican’s players to become “Eagle Ready”. Now we have not been able to confirm if in fact that came to fruition, but that is a great way to develop both the Union’s selects as well as helping the Eagles expand their pool of players.

Tiger Rugby Academy has recently announced its partnership with the SCRFU to be their Elite Performance Partner (This Is American Rugby has a full story on that). Tiger Rugby has been worked with USA Rugby on development, and just a day ago PRO Rugby announced that they would be having Tiger Rugby facilitating their first Pro Day Combine in Los Angeles later this month (December 19-20).  

PRO Rugby’s entrance into rugby in California can change some of landscape. In our interview with PRO Rugby’s Director of Development Steve Lewis a few weeks back, we did ask if the select sides like the Pelicans/Griffins would be a source for PRO Rugby’s player selection (especially since there are two clubs in California), his response was that it was a possibility but that was not in the official plan.  NCRFU President Ben Parker, who has been active in promoting the Pelicans and seeking to create direct partnerships between the NorCal Union and PRO Rugby, believes that these Selects/All Stars will really help both PRO Rugby as well as local player development.

We now know that Tiger Rugby has partnered with one of the unions in California, and PRO Rugby is working with Tiger Rugby to assist them with player selection that this weekend’s game could really be a bigger event that just selects/all stars playing.

PRO Rugby would like to establish a team in SoCal and that will likely be something that happens in the next phase (in a year or so if a viable venue can be identified and secured). Having the top non-collegiate players grouped into a select side will really assist players in getting exposure to the next level as well as a pool for PRO Rugby or a future PRO Club in Southern California.  

The game on Saturday should be heavily attended by anyone wanting to see the talent available, and that can be the likes us fans, to a Alex Magleby or folks from USA Rugby, to PRP club coaches, as well as Tiger Rugby Academy on-behalf of PRO Rugby. As of now PRO Rugby has not announced the rest of the clubs/locations, nor coaches, but has set a date for a combine.  Realistically this will also serve as a trial for those players who will take the pitch this Saturday if they have a desire to try their hand at professional rugby.

Frik Fourie who is the head coach for Fresno Rugby and the Pelican’s 2nd side will take over the head coaching duties for the first side this weekend (as Coach Adriaan Ferris of Life West and Paul Keeler from Santa Clara University are both in Dubai for the HSBC 7s). Fourie said that the Pelican’s are putting forth a very strong side, which features some players that can play at a professional level. So this weekend’s men’s game could be a bit of a preview of what we may see with PRO Rugby with some of the best club side players in California on the pitch.

Good luck the all the rugger this weekend! We hope this leads to greater opportunities for all of them at all levels.