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Sarasota Saracens Rugby Club reaches for new level of state competition

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Sarasota Saracens Rugby ClubI never should have doubted the Sarasota Rugby Club.
The Saracens practice on Tuesdays and Thursday nights, so I thought I’d swing by Lakewood Ranch, even though the weather was miserable. I expected to find six guys tossing a ball around in the rain.
Instead, it was more like 26 guys splashing through sprints and agility drills in a full-on practice.
They looked serious. They looked organized. They looked competitive.
The Saracens won the Florida Cup last fall. They expect to win a state championship in their division this year.
“We’ve got a mix of really new guys, guys just learning to handle the ball, and guys like me, who’ve been playing too long,” says Troy Nealey, the 41-year-old president of the club. “About 25 percent of our guys are funny talkers of some sort. We’ve got a couple of South Africans, a guy from Ireland, and a couple of Argies — Argentinians.”

Tampa rivalry
The Sarasota rugby club has been around, off and on, for more than a decade.
Last year, though, the club got a new coach — a stocky Welshman named Dai Morgan.
Morgan, who has coached in the U.S. and Europe, lives in Sarasota, where he’s vice president of sales for a paper company. He used to coach the Tampa Krewe, but switched to the Sarasota Rugby Club — and brought along a few of his best players.
Whoa, I told him. That sounds like a rugby rivalry.
Morgan tried to downplay the idea, but this column was all about provoking controversy.
“I’ve got a lot of good friends in Tampa; others won’t talk to me,” he said. “But that’s OK — we beat them twice last year.”

Rugger fraternity
The Saracens have also recruited a young group of local athletes and former football players.
There are three club members from Sarasota High School, three more from Cardinal Mooney, and five guys from Southeast High in Bradenton.
Morgan welcomes newcomers, even those without experience.
“I prefer to have Americans who have never played before,” he says. “No bad habits.”
Nealey, the club president, took up rugby when he was in the Navy. Over the last 20 years, he’s played on teams from St. Petersburg to Naples.
“It looks like organized chaos, but the game is so complex, it’s a thinking man’s game,” he said. “And I like the physicality of it, the running, the passing, the tackling — everybody’s got to do everything.”
For many players, the camaraderie is the best part.
“This is the world’s biggest fraternity,” Nealey says. “Because I’m a rugger, I’ve been welcomed all over the world.”

Interested?
The Sarasota Rugby Club will begin its 2014 season <NO><NO1>with a 3 p.m. home match Jan. 18 at the Sarasota International Cricket Club, 7401 University Parkway, Lakewood Ranch. Admission is free for spectators. The club is always looking for new players. sarasotasaracens.com.
Last modified: January 9, 2014
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