Round-robin matches for the Armed Forces Championship begin today in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The five-team tournament comprises 5 games in 3 days, a demanding schedule for rosters limited to 25 men. Defending champion and perennial favorites Air Force are joined by Army, Coast Guard, the Marines, and Navy.
Military rugby possesses a distinguished pedigree, with the service academies almost always among the finest collegiate teams, and such men as lock and captain Kevin Swords garnishing the Eagle ranks. But wartime deployments have much reduced the domestic playing stocks.
Less than 30 tried out for the 2006 Marines team, for example, while past years have seen 50 or more. Already a smaller force, the Marines have struggled to be competitive, last winning the title in 1988.
Not that status quo is acceptable: this past summer, Jack Clark and Tom Billups of collegiate titlists Cal were tapped to coach the side. “It’s a privilege to work with these men. Both Tom and I feel they are a cut above as individuals,” Clark said in an interview.
Pressed to rate the team’s chances, Clark said: “The Marines tell me they are used to doing more with less, so who knows?”