When it comes to rugby, there is strength in numbers.
The Kern County Rugby Club doesn’t have the numbers, but the team still mustered the strength to make the Elite 8 of the USA Rugby Division III Championships.
“It was a good year,” said former player and current assistant coach Roy Joyce. “We fell short of a National Championship but made the top four.”
The club beat Napa Valley on Nov. 19 then fell the next day to host Austin, Texas, in the finals of the Western Regionals.
The Kern County Rugby Club ran the table in Southern California Men’s Division III play, going 8-0 to advance to the regionals.
Not bad four a group of guys who practice at a park and don’t field enough players for a full 15-on-15 scrimmage.
By comparison, the Austin Club fields teams on all three levels: Division I, II and II) and does so at a 15-ace rugby complex.
But hey, it’s rugby and you won’t find anyone complaining. That’s not what rugby players do.
“I personally believe that if Austin had come here to play us we would have beaten them,” said Joyce, who credited new head coach Jamille Jacobs and the players for the team’s success.
“I can teach skill, but coaching is a different mindset,” Joyce said. “He brought a structure and everybody bought in. It was his teaching and their effort.”
The Kern County Rugby Club has been around since 1970 so it has staying power and is not going anywhere.
But Joyce, who has been with the club since 1978, said rugby is like most other sports, the more players you have the better off you are.
“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “We were Division I one year back in the '80s. We were Division II for a long time and dropped down to Division III a few years ago.”
The more numbers create a deeper pool to draw from, which is good in any sport.
“We have years when we start with 40 but by the time the season rolls around we’re down to 30,” he said. “Practices are always short, 20-22 on a good night. We can field a roster of 23 for games but sometimes we travel with as few as 19.
That’s because all of the participants have careers and/or families that get priority over the fun of a good rugby scrum.
“Life happens,” Joyce said.
Rugby happened to Joyce while he was in the Army in 1972 and it has been a passion ever since.
“Like an idiot I played competitively (as a starter) until I was 40,” he said with a chuckle. “Then I played for fun for another 10 years.”
As to who makes a good rugby player, Joyce said it can be anyone “with a desire to do your best.”
Joyce is hoping the success of the team this season helps lure more people to the sport.
“This is a football town, (rugby) is a hard sell,” he said. “But I think this year’s record and the publicity we got from it will help. Plus we’ve had a youth flag program going on for a few years.”
The club kicks back into action in November with practice and Joyce said all are welcome to give it a try.
“We don’t have tryouts, just show up,” he said. “We accept everyone.”
Information on the Kern County Rugby Club can be found at kcrugby.com.