Always on the prowl to bring something new to Dell Diamond, the Express ownership group lined up an international rugby match between the United States and Canada last February.
When it drew 7,145 paying customers, Ryan Sanders Baseball and the U.S. rugby federation were interested in an encore. So Saturday night, the Eagles, as the USA team is known, will play Brazil as part of the American Rugby Championships.
“We’re almost exactly even with last year in pre-sales. People are embracing it,” Ryan Sanders Executive Vice President J.J. Gottsch said Friday. “The weather forecast is perfect, and Central Texas has a large Brazilian contingent, so we’re looking good.”
As a bonus, samba dancers will be on hand working their routines for the upcoming 40th anniversary celebration of Carnaval Brasileiro in Austin.
The rugby should be pretty good, too. Team USA, ranked 17th in the world, kicked off the five-week Americas tournament with a 29-23 win over Uruguay last Saturday in San Antonio.
There’s even some Texas flavor as Saturday will mark the starting debut of Spike Davis, a former SMU defensive lineman who plays wing for the Eagles. He was on the roster for last February’s match at Dell but didn’t play. After leading Pro Rugby North America in tries (think “touchdowns”), he’s getting his shot for the national team.
“Last year was a great atmosphere here,” the 26-year-old Dallas resident said. “It’s a baseball stadium, definitely different, but it was loud. I feel like Austin is kind of a hot spot for rugby.”
The U.S. roster trends young, like 20-year-old fly half Ben Cima, who executed a brilliant 55-yard kick at Dell last February to beat Canada in the under-20s match.
“We wanted to go out and celebrate, but we played after the Eagles match, and it was 1 in morning when we got back to the hotel, so we went to Jack in the Box,” Cima said. “Hopefully, we can get some barbecue this time.”
Cima, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where rugby is No. 2 only to soccer, moved to Washington, D.C., when he was young. His dad, a longtime rugby player, was a diplomat. Unlike most Americans, Cima has been playing the sport most of his life and was a high school All-American at D.C.’s Gonzaga High.
“My position is kind of like a quarterback,” he explained. “I call most of the plays, direct the attack, make the snap judgments. I’m not a big, strong ball carrier; I’m a methodical decision-maker. I have to be a little bit savvy to avoid those big guys.”
Coach John Mitchell, a South Africa native, said this tournament is an important tuneup for World Cup qualifying, which will begin this summer.
“We’re playing a lot of different people, giving everyone a chance, because this is the critical time for them to make an impression,” he said. “We want to win the tournament, but most of all we’re looking for players who connect as one with the national team.”
BRAZIL VS. USA RUGBY
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
What: Match 2 in American Rugby Championship tournament
Where: Dell Diamond
Tickets: $25 to $45 for reserved seating
- Each team has 15 players on the field, working to advance the ball over the opposite touchline. A try is similar to a touchdown in American football, but the ball must be touched to the ground beyond the touchline.
- All passes must be backward; teams may move the ball ahead by running with it or kicking it and chasing it down.
- A try is worth five points, and a successful conversion after the try counts for two points. A team also may score three points on a drop goal, similar to a field goal in football.