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Rugby a passion play for U.S. team

I am not certain where most of the defensive coaches for UNLV football the past few years landed, but here’s a guess: On staff with the Guyana rugby team.

Rugby in the United States is like health care reform — still very much a work in progress with no promise ever to reach an acceptable conclusion for those who desire it most. But while the Americans train and dream and claw their way up the sport’s elite ladder, there are laughers along the way.

One came early in USA Sevens play Sunday at Sam Boyd Stadium, when the Americans beat Guyana 33-12. It only seemed like 96-12. English is the official language of Guyana, but I have to believe the word “tackle” was lost somewhere within those Caribbean dialects.

The match lasted 14 minutes because I think part of the rules is to play 3,456 of them in a day. This is good because it prevents any coach from remaining on the field ranting and raving like a lunatic searching for an athletic director to protest a call or, in this case, some French official who would just become annoyed at the arrogance of any American coach desperate enough to display such antics.

“I wouldn’t say that was a complete game at all,” U.S. coach Al Caravelli said after the stomping of Guyana. “It was a good first half. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have scored 33 more in the second half. I tell the guys if we have our foot on someone’s neck, snap it. Finish it off. Put the dagger in them.”

I like this guy and not just because he says things about snapping necks and putting daggers into people. He can’t be more than 5 feet 7 inches, but speaks in one of those steely, I-dare-you-to-ask-a-stupid question tones and wears those wrap-around sunglasses that you know are hiding a look that suggests he’s one more stupid question away from rolling your head instead of a ball into the tunnel on the next scrum.

His team more than held its own over the two-day tournament. The Americans beat France in the Bowl Final 28-17, which is like winning the loser’s bracket. The United States earned wins Sunday over Guyana, Argentina and the French. It’s akin to finishing ninth in the 16-team field, a respectable result for the Americans.

But something tells me Caravelli is looking for a head to roll into the tunnel, and that’s a good thing.

Rugby becomes an Olympic sport in 2016 and while it will never reach the popularity here that it has across the globe in terms of financial support and overall skill, having someone with Caravelli’s passion lead the way will only help America’s ability to compete.

It’s all about passion, after all.

Rugby is the world’s second-most played game. Billions across the world watch on television, and a tournament and festival such as the one Las Vegas hosted over the weekend allows us a great glimpse of true sports obsession.

Nothing brings out the spirit of fans like an international soccer or rugby event. Talk all you want about Southeastern Conference football on a fall Saturday, I’ll take two nuts dressed in plaid Scottish kilts with matching hats trying to act inconspicuous and sneak into a players-only lounge any day.

Rugby fans are just so darn polite. A few guys with those accents women love (sort of a mix between James Bond and Crocodile Dundee) offered my wife and her friend beers on the way into the stadium Sunday, which I thought was a really friendly thing to do and must have made an impression on my wife and her friend, considering I haven’t seen them since.

Caravelli is correct in saying it is a choice for his players to compete and not a sacrifice, even though other nations field teams of full-time professionals and the American side that played here this week offered just one in Paul Emerick.

“If we were ever able to create an environment of 20 guys who did nothing but train in rugby and think rugby and study rugby, that would lead to us taking big steps forward,” said Emerick, who plays professionally in Italy. “We don’t have that. We play for the love of country. It’s not a sport that is going to get anyone rich. I’m thrilled to wear the red, white and blue. That’s what it is about for us.”

Good show. Good party. Good times.

Although I have to believe those poor souls from Guyana would have tackled better had they been inspired by better locker rooms.

Contact reporter Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0353.

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