Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

Interested in becoming a Bend Roughrider?

• The Bend Rugby Club is always open to new players. Rugby experience is not required. The club plays in leagues and tournaments throughout the year, and it includes a women’s team and high school teams in addition to the men’s side. To learn more, visit www.bendrugby.com or email joinbendrugby@gmail.com .

• The Bend Rugby Club is also accepting donations to support its teams and defray the cost of travel during the playoff run. More information is available at the team website.

Levi Penter says he knew something special was brewing when the Bend Rugby Club traveled to play the 43rd State Crimson Lions in Boise, Idaho, in mid-March.

Penter, 24 and of Bend, was filling in at scrum-half, even though he did not really know how to play the position and was still learning the new system the scrum-half is charged with running.

“I was calling bad, it was wet and messy, they hit really hard, we got kicked in the face” at the beginning of the game, Penter recounted. “But there was a point where one of our guys intercepted the ball and ran it the other way. And I thought, I think we have a solid club.”

The Roughriders would go on to win 25-10.

For Trevor Prater, that same realization actually came in a loss to Oregon Sports Union, a Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union Division II team from Portland, in the season opener in February.

“With kind of a ragtag group of guys and two practices under our belts, we gave them a run for their money,” Prater, 26 and of Redmond, recalled. “We were like, we just played really well against them, and we have nothing happening for us right now. Half of our players aren’t here, we haven’t done any structure work. We ended up losing the game, but we stuck it to them.”

And assistant coach John Chunn said he suspected Bend would clean up against its fellow Division III teams back in September, when the team had an idea of who had signed up for the spring 2018 season. The Roughriders had done well enough in 2016 to be promoted to Division II, but many players moved away from Bend ahead of the 2017 season. After a down season last spring, Bend was back in Division III, and a number of previous Roughriders players returned to Central Oregon.

“It’s even better than that, though,” Chunn said, comparing the 2018 crew to the 2016 team. “This is easily the best the team has been, and you can just tell. We had some new players, guys who hadn’t even played before, but they showed really good promise. You could just tell, the cohesion on the field, it was there. They were really well-bonded and communicating well with each other. They were good from the get-go.”

The Roughriders finished the regular season 10-0 against PNRFU teams and 13-3 overall. They beat the Crimson Lions again in their league championship match and advanced to the Pacific Coast Territorial championship, held April 28 in San Francisco. Bend had reached that game every year from 1999 to 2008 and again in 2012, but never once won.

And for 20 minutes, it looked like the Roughriders might face their 12th straight loss in the territorial championship as they fell behind 17-0 to the Diablo Old Gaels of Northern California.

“I think we were nervous, they had butterflies. They made a lot of mistakes in the first few minutes of the game,” Chunn said.

But the Roughriders settled down, returned to their game plan, and went on a 33-0 scoring run.

“They hung two more (five-point) tries on us to bring it back to where we only won by two” points, Prater said. “But for a team to come back from 17-0 after 20 minutes is a pretty big deal. To go out there and keep our composure and allow our structure to get us back into the game is pretty amazing. We had some fantastic plays from Levi. He scored four tries in that game, he played out of his mind. And our forwards played some of the best defense I’ve ever seen them play.”

The come-from-behind win, 33-31, earned the Roughriders their first trip to the USA Rugby Club Western Championships as North Pacific Geographic Union champs. (Bend did compete at the Western Championships one year as an alternate when the North Pacific champion was unable to travel to the next level of competition.) The Roughriders will face the Wichita (Kansas) Barbarians at 10 a.m. Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, in what amounts to the national quarterfinal game. The winner will play for the Western championship Sunday, and the national championship will be held June 2-3 in Glendale, Colorado.

Chunn said the Roughriders are feeling good about their chances, saying “other teams are scared to death of our backs,” referring to the seven players stationed outside of the scrum.

“We do have very structured, solid plans about what we want to do, we have a format that we follow, and when we play that format, we’re very formidable,” Chunn said. “What we saw (of Wichita) on film, there’s nothing fancy there. If we go into it with the right attitude and we go into it with a settled energy, I think we’ll do pretty well.”

The Roughriders range in age from 18 to 45, but many are in their mid-20s and have been playing for at least four or five seasons, so the team benefits from athleticism and experience that allows it to play a more sophisticated style than most Division III sides.

“Our strong suit is open play: Passing fast, moving fast, running fast, that’s our strong suit,” Penter said. “And this year we’ve taken on a new play style. Our scrum half, Clint (Peterson), he’s very smart. He thinks three plays ahead, so he’s a very good leader for that structure. He has worked really hard, and so has everybody else, to rein that in when we’re not progressing, slowing the ball down and keeping the possession.”

Prater said this year’s team also has one more thing that past Bend teams did not: These Roughriders know what it feels like to have a losing season, and they had no intention of repeating that experience. And in adult league rugby, which often takes a backseat to jobs and family commitments (and having a good time), commitment goes a long way.

“Last year really made all of us that were around be like, if we really want to make a run at anything, if we want to do anything more than just play league rugby, we’re really going to have to put the time and effort in and get everybody to practice,” Prater said. “Our captain, Austin Britts, he’s made it a conscious decision that we’re going to do these things, and we’re going to do it together as a team. There’s none of this, ‘I’m better than this person, he’s better than so-and-so.’ We’re a team, we’re in it together, and we have one goal, and that’s to win nationals.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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