July 2, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Liberty Rugby sends two on New Zealand exchange
The Liberty Rugby Football Club has done a more than solid job of building a local following for the international sport, but try as it might, the enthusiasm pales in comparison to that seen in New Zealand.
That’s why the club is sending two of its players on a once-in-a-lifetime exchange to the country that literally lives and breathes rugby.
“It’s the hot bed of rugby,” Liberty rugby coach Jeff Candler said. “It’s going to be eye opening. We have a pretty strong rugby culture at Liberty, but they have it throughout the entire country.”
Noah Wright, an incoming ninth-grader at Liberty High School, and Keegan Stuver, entering 10th grade at Kent-Meridian High School, left for New Zealand at the end of May. The boys will attend Trident High School, where they’ll train alongside athletes who have played the sport their entire lives.
Wright said he expects a strict regiment of ruby, school and training in his three months overseas, but he’s excited to learn from the best.
“I’m kind of nervous because rugby over there is way different,” he said prior to leaving. “Their skills are more honed than they are here. American rugby is more individual, while rugby in New Zealand is more team-oriented.”
Coaches chose Wright and Stuver for the opportunity because both display a lot of promise, Candler said. They also have supportive families that appreciate the exchange enough to allow their boys to leave home for three months.
Rugby runs in the family for both boys. Stuver’s father played with Candler back in the day, while Wright’s brother Ian, a 2013 Liberty High School graduate, played with the USA Rugby High School All-Americans last year.
“These two are the captains of their team,” Candler said of Wright and Stuver. “Noah has been playing a long time and has shown such an eagerness to learn and get better. Both of them have the right physical and mental attitude, too.”
Stuver said coaches have told him that New Zealand children “basically come out of the womb carrying a rugby ball,” and it’s as much, or more, a part of the culture, as football is to Americans.
New Zealand won the very first Rugby World Cup, held in 1987. The country also won the most recent one, in 2011. The next one is schedule for 2015 in England.
“There’s no better place in the world to learn about rugby,” Stuver said. “They’re the smartest rugby players on earth.”
Wright and Stuver will return home at the end of August with, they hope, a sharpened repertoire of skills, and an even finer appreciation for the sport.
“It’s really a unique opportunity,” Candler said. “You don’t see a lot of guys from our side going down there, at least at that age. The gains we’ll get as a team, and they’ll get individually, are just immeasurable.”