Flush with optimism, the Austin Huns showed off their expanded facilities to the home fans for the first time Saturday and trotted out a new-look team transitioning to professional rugby.
The Huns topped it off when Michael Reid charged through a small gap in the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club defense and scored a try on the last play of the match to win 24-21.
The San Diego side is a seven-time national club champion and won the California Cup title earlier this month.
“We showed we belong,” said Huns owner Richard Osborn. “What a perfect ending. It was such a well-balanced match, almost like the last guy who possessed the ball was going to win.”
Trailing 21-17, the Huns (2-0) regained possession in the last 90 seconds, and Brian Welborn won a key lineout. Justin Hale and other Huns smartly advanced the ball before Reid capped the rally with the five-point scramble. Zinzan Elan-Puttick added the two-point conversion.
A crowd approaching 1,000 turned out in a southeast Austin stadium that can now seat perhaps 2,000 people. In addition to more bleachers, the team added a VIP section, food and alcohol from Casa Chapala, merchandising and live music.
“I’m pleased with the turnout,” Osborn said. “We’re doing a lot of advertising and we’ll build on it. For us to move forward, we needed controlled access and a more professional atmosphere. We have future plans to build a bigger stadium on the other side of our property. We’re working with a company out of Lyon, France.”
The Huns, who’ve been around since 1972, also struck a television deal with Spectrum to show home matches, with veteran Austin broadcaster Kit McConnico doing play-by-play.
To build a roster that could compete professionally, the Huns added U.S. Eagles national captain Todd Clever to their management team, went to South Africa to hire coach Eugene Eloff and began paying players at three tiers, the upper level being a pro contract.
“Ownership had the vision, it is our job to get it right, between the lines,” Eloff said. “We need to build a foundation, not a house that can be blown away. Rugby is here to stay. I think Austin could become the leader in U.S. rugby.”
With the only American pro league suspended for 2017 because of financial problems, the Huns will play professional hopefuls from Detroit, Denver and Salt Lake City in addition to San Diego, while still competing with the powerful Austin Blacks and other regional teams in the Red River Rugby Conference.
“We’re playing against some of the top programs in the country to give ourselves a gauge for where we’re at,” Osborn said.