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The Hooker Likes Pastels

The Rugby World Cup begins next week. 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. Let me know if you can guest-write a team preview, or if you can invite me to an embassy RWC watch party, or if you have any other coverage ideas.

That's Owen on the left. He's not teaching art at the moment.

USA Rugby's Owen Lentz may not be the biggest guy on the rugby field--he's 5-foot-9, 211 pounds--but he's no slouch, either. "He's a physical guy and he doesn't shy away from anybody," said Jason Maloni, Lentz's manager with the Maryland Exiles. "He's hard. He's hard, and he's committed."

Committed enough that he played professionally for three years in South Africa, logging time with both the Border Bulldogs and the Eastern Province Mighty Elephants. He'd play professionally in the States, too, if it were possible, but it's not. So instead he does the next most natural thing for a young rugby star: he teaches art.

"He also gets made fun of a lot," noted Lentz's wife, Bethesda native Erin Johnson. "He's like this rough guy--he's big, he's a hooker--and then he's an art teacher too. It doesn't fit a rugby player's profile, really, to be an artist."

Many of the sports backers would disagree, of course, pointing to the PhD's and physicians and engineers who play their game, but this isn't about them, this is about Owen Lentz. He took up the sport when he was 6, played for his provincial squads and eventually graduated to the national U-21 team. But after three years of being a South African pro, his body had taken a pounding, and so he decided he'd take a break and see more of the world by coming to the States to play for the Exiles.

Then he met Erin, a former honorable mention All-Met soccer player from Whitman High who played collegiately at Brown while studying visual art. She had bounced around after college, for a time teaching ceramics and photography at Whitman, where she instructed a future USA Rugby call-up named Inaki Basauri. Around the time she met Owen--who had also studied art in school--she decided she wanted to open her own teaching studio.

After they were engaged, they opened Bethesda's Artworks Fine Art Studio together. And so, between his pre-dawn training runs and evening weightlifting sessions, Lentz helps aspiring artists ages 5 and higher learn the fundamentals of drawing. He prefers pastels, and specializes in realistic scenes from South Africa. I asked whether he'd rather be playing his sport for a living.

"It's kind of a difficult question to answer," he said this week from Iowa, where the Eagles are training for the Rugby World Cup, which starts next week in France and England. "Rugby's been the love of my life, you know? I've always thought of it as my most passionate thing. But my wife is in America, and you don't really get paid to play rugby in America, [so] I guess art is my work. If I had a choice to play professionally, yeah, I'd play rugby here."

Being in America, though, did give Lentz a chance to play in a World Cup. He had lived here long enough to qualify for the U.S. side, and after months of training camps and scrimmages and cuts he was included on the 30-man final roster this month, fulfilling what he called "a childhood dream." The U.S. side, of course, is in a five-team pool that also includes South Africa. Lentz knows several of the Springboks from playing on the U-21 team; he regularly gets up at 3 in the morning to watch South African matches online, collects South African uniforms and cheers on his countrymen whenever they're playing anyone but the U.S., making this whole proposition a bit odd.

"His whole family's pretty torn; they want to root for Owen, but they also want to root for South Africa," said Erin, who is pregnant with the couple's first child and unable to travel to Europe for the Cup. "They're all proud and supportive of him; at the same time, they're torn between who they should root for."

Anyhow, Lentz thinks he's in the U.S. for good, and after the World Cup is over and his daily stipend of about $100 disappears, he'll be back to teaching art in Bethesda. The studio focuses on instilling proper artistic techniques, which Erin and Owen think are prerequisites for more advanced experimentation. Owen's presence helps convince some of the younger lads that going to art class isn't a girlie endeavor; "it really helps the boys in our class say 'Oh, this is ok'," Erin said. Plus, the moms just love him.

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 31, 2007; 12:09 PM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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Next: A Moment With Mike Wise


Rugby Schmugby - Nothing about a certain Omar Cuff and his exploits on the gridiron last night?

Posted by: Rob Iola | August 31, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

So, Steinz, barring any embassy invites, where you gonna watch the games?

Posted by: EdTheRed | August 31, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Ed, not sure yet. Really disappointed at my lack of embassy invites. I'll be doing some sort of bar rundown next week, but if any Barra would get together for some rugby, I'd be down.

Posted by: Dan Steinberg | August 31, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Dan, a few of us from Severn River Rugby Football Club will be traveling to Lyon, France September 6 through September 17.

We will be watching Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand in Lyon, as well we will be traveling to see the United States and Wales play.

We could help, please advise.

I can be reached at

A couple of guys that I might suggest covering would be Mark Cric who plays for Potomac Athletic Club (was/is in the pool of players, but not traveling unless someone gets hurt prior. Mark has played at a high level in South Africa I believe). Dan Payne is a high school pal of mine from upstate New York (Dan was a collegiate wrestling All-American at Clarion behing Kurt Angle, and started playing rugby very late in his life and is one of the oldest on the team. Also his brother plays Defensive Tackle for Jacksonville Jaguars - Seth Payne). Another would be Paul Emerick (he plays professionally oversees).

The three above would be interesting to compare their quite different paths.

Steve Compo

Posted by: Severn River Rugby | September 1, 2007 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Dan, thanks for the rugby article. I could only guess that Owen Lentz is a hooker because of his size and my familiarity with rugby (your on-line version mentions hooker in the title). I am sure a lot of people would love to know more about this position. He's hard? I know but help everyone out a bit more - why is that important - if you play rugby you know.

I think you are in a great position to raise knowledge and awareness of rugby in America so take advantage of it and don't assume that your readers know a thing.

Thanks for the coverage.

Posted by: Brian Collins | September 1, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Well, I've seen big crowds at Fado for Six Nations (while I was watching "Association Football" in a different part of the bar), and according to their website, they're showing the games, so I'm thinking a visit to cheer on las águilas might be in order...I'm sure it'll be a blast for a half a dozen 'mericans to try to outsing an entire bar full of drunken Englishmen (and women). I'll ask around to see if I can track down a few like-minded folks.

Posted by: EdTheRed | September 4, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm always glad to see any coverage of Rugby (which is quite rare in the American Media) and I hope you'll keep it up BogMan. Specifically the Turkey-Trot Thanksgiving 7s tournament, which I'm encouraging my club down here in Asheville to come up to DC for.

Posted by: AlecW81 | September 4, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

What a shock to see a photo of a line out on today's Sports front. I'm a columnist for Rugby magazine and have covered the Eagles since 1992; ask anybody who plays -- hate me. I'm also a music stringer for Style and a frequent goof off in Tuesday Health. Keep the rugby ball rolling. Let me know if I can help.
Buzz McClain

Posted by: Buzz McClain | September 5, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Owen and I went to the same high school, he was one year my junior, but what I remember of him is that he was always a good lad and loved rugby. I wish him the best for the world cup! Am also proud that he has the chance to live his dream: Playing in the world cup!

London, United Kingdom

Posted by: Caesar | September 14, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

i see u got rid of my comment

Posted by: Anonymous | September 22, 2007 6:16 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see the rugby coverage. I played for Marquette University women's back in the day (which was a Wednesday) and played hooker for a while. Love the title! It's great to be a hooker, especially for us ladies! Keep up the coverage!

Milwaukee, WI

Posted by: Jessica | September 23, 2007 11:41 PM | Report abuse

hi! im a great rugby fan, i went to france for the world cup and i do admit that i really admire lentz. i was wondering, is he a father yet? hopefully if its a son hell be the next lentz hooker!!!!
lots of love

Posted by: heather | October 24, 2007 4:58 AM | Report abuse

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