Rugby Crusaders will play host to one of the leading University sides from the United States at Webb Ellis Road on Wednesday March 7th, kick-off 7.15pm.
Bowling Green State University from Ohio, known as ‘The Falcons’, is ranked amongst the top 20 sides in the National Collegiate Championship and has won the Mid-America Conference an incredible 30 years in a row.
This will be the third time BGSU have toured the UK having previously visited in 1987 and again in 1995 when they made a detour to the birthplace of the game to see the splendor of Rugby School and the Gilbert Museum.
And it was during that brief visit that Director of Rugby, Roger Mazzarella, vowed BGSU would return one day in a playing capacity.
Seventeen years on his dream is about to be realized. “We just happened to drive by the Rugby Lions pitch on our last tour in ’95 and I decided then that one day we would play a match at rugby’s birthplace.
“Tours of Wales, Ireland, France and twice to South Africa intervened but a match in Rugby was always on the slow cooker at the back of the stove,” said Mazzarella, whose association with rugby at BGSU stretches back to his days as a player in the first-ever team in 1968 – the year the club was formed.
“When we decided we had the support in numbers to make a 2012 trip to England possible, Rugby Lions were the first team I contacted to schedule a match, and happily we were able to arrange a mid-week fixture.
“Our tours have always been to a country where the sport is a “religion” and playing at the birthplace of the game will certainly be one of, if not “the” highlights of all of our rugby careers. “
A touring party of 45, including 23 full-time players and initially split into two groups, will head to Heathrow from Cleveland and Detroit on Friday March 2nd.
As well as sight-seeing trips to famous destinations such as Westminster Abbey and Blenheim Palace, the Falcons will take in a couple of London-based Premiership matches.
On the field of play, the game against Rugby Lions will be topped and tailed with a fixture against Saracens and London Italians before BGSU return home on March 11th no doubt richer for the experience. The Mazzarella family is certainly planning to get as much out of the trip as possible.
Roger added: “My son Tony, who has been Head Coach since I handed over the role to him in the fall of 2008, myself and my twin cousins, Vic and Vince, are all planning on at least getting involved in the game so we can at least say we played at Rugby. Vince’s wife Margo, my wife Martha and Tony’s wife Marny will also be on the tour.”
While BGSU has English connections through its co-founder, an ex-pat by the name of Roger Holliday, Rugby Lions has historical links with rugby in America, too.
In October 1980, Lions played a side from Minneapolis at Webb Ellis Road and won the game 19-12. This was followed by a tour to Minnesota in the summer of 1982 and a second visit from a United States team came a year later when Dartmouth College were beaten 32-9.