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The Eagles Vomit

(Courtesy USA Rugby.)

The Rugby World Cup begins next week. My travel request to go cover this live in England and France was turned down. But from now until the RWC's end, or at least until I run out of material, I will be attempting at least one rugby post per day. Also, let me know if you can guest-write an interesting post, or if you can invite me to an entertaining RWC watch party, or if you have any other coverage ideas. Bear in mind that, if you're still reading this, you know more about the actual game than I do. And write here to join my RWC Fantasy League.

The Eagles (that's what you call the U.S. team) spent the end of July at an Aspen ranch, camping in tents and doing such team-building things as baling hay and flipping tractor-trailer tires and hauling boulders and going orienteering and dragging cranes and other heavy objects around. There's nothing quite like Strongman events to build camaraderie. There's a tremendous photo album at USA Rugby.

USA Rugby also has a camp journal, cobbled together from various Eagles, which made vague references to illness. "Tuesday began with the team recovering from a 24 hour virus that decimated ½ of the squad," Mike French wrote. "People, including myself, got sick and today others are feeling ill," Henry Bloomfield wrote. What was this illness, you're wondering? "Basically the whole team was [pooing] and spewing," said D.C. resident Mark Crick, who was in camp at the time.

Last night, I had a long talk with Crick, the former coach of local squad PAC Rugby, who came within inches of making the U.S. RWC side. I didn't even ask him about the virus, but it was the very first thing he mentioned.

"Guys were basically vomiting and [the reverse]," he told me. "There was one toilet for 30 guys. It was just mayhem. It was pretty bad....The twist on it is, guys were really sick, but we kept training."

Not just the healthy guys, either. Mark told me that there were IV's set up in the training camp, and that about 20 of the guys fell ill, and that a few guys--including him--had to be taken to a local hospital, and that since someone in the Aspen area had recently tested positive for cholera some Eagles had to submit to blood tests.

Mark vomited 10 or 20 times himself, just constantly throwing up, and said that he lost about 15 pounds in four or five days. And naturally, the altitude made it worse; "hard to get oxygen into the lungs while continually throwing up," he pointed out.

But as mentioned above, the players healthy enough to play managed to still go through their drills, and some guys who weren't all the way back would still practice, meaning there was not an insignificant amount of vomiting on the training pitch.

"Obviously it was a big deal," Mark said of the training camp. "It's the third-biggest sporting event in the world. Everyone's not backing down, so you had guys vomiting and in all sorts, session after session....It was pretty awful, but it was kind of fun. The whole situation was funny to look back on.

"I suppose these are the things you kind of look back on with rugby. There's no easy rides, there's no prima donnas, there's no guys burying Ferraris and living in million-dollar condos and playing rugby. They're there because they want to be there. Everyone was in the same boat: we had no amenities out there, it was kind of rough, and we all basically just had to deal with it."

If you've spent any time around ruggers, you'll have noticed that they speak in utopian terms about their sport, about the friendships and the brotherhood and the character and the sense of perspective and the sense of humor and all the rest. Partly, I'm sure, this is just because the money isn't there; if rugby players had a CBA and guaranteed minimum contracts and Drew Rosenhaus, you can bet some of them would buy Ferraris and hold themselves out of preseason practice and look down their noses at vomit-filled tent camps in Aspen. But they don't, and they hold this grand vision of their sport, which is why an amateur from D.C.--who just came up agonizingly short in his bid to make the most important team possible--can now look back on a week of absolute vomit-filled $100-stipend-a-day mayhem and say "it was kind of fun."

Much more on Mark Crick later this week.

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 29, 2007; 10:03 AM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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Here's a link to a list of local venues that will be showing the games:

Posted by: KJ | August 29, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

The US team may not be favorites in any of their pool games (losing their starting fullback who's one of the best players on the team to a torn ACL certainly doesn't help), but it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm either for the Eagles or the RWC. Man, I can't wait to get over to France for the USA v. South Africa match, let alone for the tournament to start.

Keep up the great work, Dan. Really looking forward to reading your posts on rugby.

Posted by: Mike S | August 29, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Just seeing anything in the newspaper about Rugby is encouraging. I live in Quad Cities, 28 miles from the training camp in Muscatine, Iowa. The sports media here has virtually ignored the fact that the Eagles are nearby.
I was in attendance at the Eagles - Munster match in Chicago. To be sitting in seats in a cushy stadium (Indoor restrooms! Any kind of restrooms!) with nearly 9,000 others was a far cry from the typical day of Rugby viewing. And a very enjoyable one it was, despite the final score. Thanks Dan. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Dubhlaoich | August 29, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

RWC may cause me to rent a plasma TV for 6 weeks.

Posted by: Mike | August 30, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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