USA Rugby Structure Series: Pacific North Competitive Region


By Jason Graves

In my continuing series describing the basic structure of rugby in the United States my first focus area is the Pacific North Competitive Region (CR).  As stated in my previous post (USA Rugby Structure Series: Overview) this competition is comprised of the Pacific Northwest Union (PNRFU) made up of clubs from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and the Northern California Union (NCRFU) consisting of clubs from the northern portion of California and the majority of Nevada.  Combined these unions include 3 Men’s divisions playing DI – DIII and 1 Women’s division competing in DII.  While I will mention the women’s programs on occasion I want to emphasize this series will focus on the men’s divisions; I will begin another series at a later time to focus on women’s rugby.  The overall intent of these posts is not to go into depth regarding the quality of play in each Competitive Region but to highlight the amount of rugby being played in the United States and to create a baseline to draw on as I move forward with men’s, women’s, youth, and high school posts.  Let’s get started.
The most recognizable teams within the Pacific Northwest CR are the Seattle Saracens, Life West Gladiators, and the San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG) Rhinos.  All 3 clubs have both a men’s and women’s sides and while Seattle has ties to local high school programs and are part of the wider Saracens family only the Rhinos boast an academy-style system with Youth and High School pathway.  All DI-DIII clubs are eligible to compete in the USA Club championships with Seattle the only club that does not compete within its governing union; Seattle actually compete in the British Columbia Rugby Union (BCRU) in Canada.  While the Rhinos have a team competing in the semi-professional Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) and the upcoming California Cup they maintain a DI squad that competes within the NCRFU against teams like Life West.  This is where my first issue with USA Rugby emerges; a lack of firm and demanding leadership.

USA Rugby is the governing body for rugby in the United States and yet they continue to allow Seattle to participate in the BCRU which benefits Canadian-based clubs instead of the regional clubs in the PNRFU.  It’s my opinion that USA Rugby needs to take a firm stance against Seattle’s ability to compete in the USA Rugby Club Championship without competing against their regional competition.  While DI clubs like Oregon Sports Union, Valley Rugby, and Snake River Rugby may not be able to compete at the same level as the mighty Saracens the only way to improve rugby in those areas is to compete against the best.  Seattle is a DI side, so are the others within the PNRFU; USA Rugby needs to step in, demand Seattle compete within their own Union, or deny them the right to compete in the Club Championship.  Further, Seattle is essentially a Canadian team, players for the Saracens should not be eligible to wear an Eagles jersey until Seattle competes in a US-based competition be it the PNRFU or the PRP.  This is a harsh stance but one I believe would benefit USA Rugby as a whole.  The primary issue USA Rugby and some supports may have with taking this stance is the fact that some current Eagles play for Seattle to include; prop Olive Kalifi, number 8 Matt Trouville, and scrumhalf Shalom Suniula.  The primary issue is; do we want to improve rugby in the U.S. as a whole or do we want to continue feeding the same handful of talent through a tiny pipeline?  I am in favor of forcing the best of rugby to compete in the U.S. if at all possible and this is a way USA Rugby could enforce this policy.  So who would this benefit?  Let’s take a look at the teams within the PNRFU as I climb down off my soapbox.

The teams competing within the PNRFU at DI are; the Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) Jesters, Portland Pigs, Snake River Rugby, Eastside Tsunami, Valley Kangaroos, and the Bend Roughriders.  ORSU is the perennial favorite with Portland and Bend gaining a recent promotion from DII.  Teams in D2 consist of the 43rd State Crimson Lions, Tacoma Nomads, Salem Spartans, Chuckanut Bay Geoducks, Budd Bay Buffaloes, and the Eastside Axemen.  Lastly in DIII the teams are the Seattle Quake, Battleground Bulls, Eugene Stags, Portland Pigs, ORSU Jesters, Clark County Chiefs, Kitsap Renegades, and Corvallis Brewers.  The PNRFU spans 252,386 square miles and includes 19 clubs, 2 of which have a DI and DIII squad but if you ask the average rugby fan the vast majority could only name Seattle.  I aim to change that.  Now let’s take a quick look at the NCRFU.

There are more notable clubs in the NCRFU and more clubs overall than in the PNRFU; teams competing in DI are the Life West Gladiators, SFGG Rhinos, East Palo Alto Razorbacks, Olympic Club Rugby, Sacramento Lions, and Santa Rosa Rugby.  While the Seattle Saracens are the only Elite club in the PNRFU their sister competition can boasts 2 in SFGG and Olympic, both squads competing in the PRP and California Cup.  In DII the teams competing are Bay Area Baracus, Berkeley Rugby, Chico Mighty Oaks, Diablo Olde Gaels, Fresno Rugby, Life West Gladiators, Napa Valley Rugby, Sacramento Blackhawks, Sacramento Capitals, San Jose Seahawks, Silicone Valley Rugby, and the Vacaville Old Dogs.  Moving on to DIII the number of clubs again exceeds that of the PNRFU; Aptos Beach Dogs, Colusa County Rugby, Google Rugby, Marin Reds, Mendocino Steam Donkeys, Napa Valley Rugby, Redwood Empire Rugby, Reno Zephyrs, San Francisco Fog, Shasta Highlanders, and the South Valley Bucks are all DIII clubs.  A total of 27 clubs, two competing in multiple divisions, 1 with an academy-style system, and very few known outside their divisions.

Forty-six clubs compete in the Pacific North CR and it’s not even the largest Competitive Region in US Rugby.  In future posts I intend on highlighting some clubs and hopefully some players as I attempt to shed light on the vast club system here in the United States.

Up next: Pacific South CR

Previous: USA Rugby Structure Series: Overview

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7 comments

  1. Why do you want/expect that USAR should step in to “force” clubs to do something thst is 1) not in the club’s best interest, 2) not in the best interest of USA Rugby, 3) not in the best interest of the players or clubs in that region, and 4) outside of USAR’s by-laws?

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    • Thank you for the comment. My comment is based on the fractured landscape that is currently club rugby in the US. Is it getting better? Sure but Seattle is a particularly frustrating club for me as they continue to compete in Canada with occasional matches against there regional teams. That competition would improve teams in that region giving USAR a deeper talent pool. In my opinion the best interest of the club should take a back seat to USAR or they are welcome to go independent. As for the players, if they chose to compete for an independent club then they understand they are outside the Eagle pipeline. By-laws can be changed. Again, my opinion is an attempt to bring all clubs into the fold, fuse a fractured system even if it means alienating some clubs and players, and focus our efforts on the Eagles first and foremost.
      Thank you again…I enjoy the discussion.

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      • Understand something clearly: Seattle was destroying neighboring clubs on the field and, indirectly, off the field before they moved to BC League (with the blessing of every local club, the USAR Club Comp Committee, & finally USAR). No other club complained then or is complaining now about Seattle’s move.

        To state that players on a USA-based club that plays in a local, but Canadian, rugby competition of a high caliber should not be eligible for selection to the Eagles is inconsistent with World Rugby regulation 8. Reg 8 nullifies that players competing for an independent club be outside of the Eagle pipeline.

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      • I understand how dominant Seattle was/is, I once lived in the area. I’m not saying anyone is complaining and I’m not saying they shouldn’t participate in BC Rugby but they need to play there regional clubs. Like the Tier 1 playing Tier 2 100 – 0 becomes 75 – 3 which eventually becomes a competitive match. As for the regulation…the coach still picks his squad so whether they are eligible vs selected is semantics. My point is this, I believe in a hard stance, I believe the system is not clearly focused on the Eagles and that talent is being overlooked because of the current system. I understand what you are getting at and I get it, Seattle is doing great things. Look at the Eagles they’ve produced. I get it but my point is to improve there region just like we’re wanting vs Tier 1 nations.

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