In this week's feature story we profile a local rugby player and Iraq War vet who survived a fluke house fire and seven weeks in a coma -- and is now attempting a comeback to the pitch. Meanwhile, another powerhouse rugby squad in the area is about to defend their title as runner-up in last year's Division 3 national tournament.
The St. Louis Royals, who practice out of Hazelwood, sailed through the regional and national tourneys last year before falling to the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego in the title match. On Saturday in Austin, Texas, they will begin their quest to repeat that run when they play their first game in the Western tournament, which brings together the best eight teams from this swath of the country, stretching as far west as Colorado, with the winner advancing to nationals.
The Royals, who recruit out of St. Charles and St. Louis counties, belong to the Missouri Rugby Football Union, which covers the Eastern portion of the state. The union is home to seven Division 3 teams and two Division 2 teams -- including the St. Louis Ramblers, who bill themselves as the second-oldest active club in the country, born along with the Missouri union in 1933. The union also carries a handful of high school teams; there are no Division 1 teams here.
Royals Vice President Steve McKinstry attributes the team's success to its intense conditioning program, which can be seen here. (The team employs its own personal trainer.) "We were probably in better shape than every team we played, beside the team we lost to in the championship game," says McKinstry.
For more info on the Western tournament in Austin, visit the Western Rugby Football Union's website.