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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Adieu, Jean-Paul Sirat.....

Me with Jean Paul and his son Léo in Puisserguier, France last year.

Today I got the news that my very dear friend, Jean-Paul Sirat, died. Fabienne, his former wife, and the mother of his two sons Charlie and Léo, sent me the message today. Jean-Paul was only 50 years old.

I first met Jean-Paul back in the 1981-82 school year. I was studying in Montpellier, France. I met him through Bernard Massé, a mutual friend. He was amused to run into an American who loved soccer(football) and rugby. I would get together with some friends and we would play pick-up games of soccer at L'Université Paul Valéry, on the grounds by the student cafeteria. When the FIFA World Cup started that year, we would get together at his apartment or Bernard's apartment to watch soccer and talk about it. Being very politically involved,he also wanted to talk politics, but his other passion, besides soccer and rugby, was music-and he was a huge, huge Bruce Springsteen fan. (He would get a chance to see him perform in France)

When I left Montpellier, he gave me his address and told me to keep in touch. The funny thing was, we kept on writing each other and keeping up with what was going on in our lives. I would send him post cards, shirts of American sports teams and different CD's. Jean-Paul would send me books, CD's and articles on what was going on in soccer and rugby. Remember, that in the 80's and early 90's, there was no internet to keep up with results. I would get these clippings that were weeks and months old, and that was how I kept up with European soccer and rugby for a long, long time.

We followed each other as we went through different stages in our lives. For me, it meant getting married, being in the US Air Force in Texas, going to nursing school. becoming a parent of a son and a daughter and hosting exchange students. During those years, money was tight-I so desperately wanted to go back to Southern France and see my friends. For Jean-Paul, he got his degree, worked as a teacher near Valenciennes, in the north of France for two miserable years, and then he would marry Fabienne, and then move back to near Béziers, his home town in Languedoc. He was very involved as a teacher, and then after his boys Charlie and Léo were born, he would be very involved as a volunteer coach for Midi-Lirou, a youth soccer club in the Puisserguier and Capestang area.

In 2004, my wife Rebekah and I went to France for our 20th wedding anniversary. We were able to see  Jean Paul, and all of us just hit it off. We had a wonderful late afternoon and evening eating great food and drinking some great local wines from Languedoc.

I was able to introduce the Sirat family to my family when we went to France for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Jean Paul and Fabienne were very, very gracious hosts. While we rented a house for 3 days in Puisserguier, they made sure we were over at their house for dinner every night. My kids discovered the joys of wild boar paté(made by Fabienne's dad) and Jean-Paul personally arranged for our family to do a vineyard tour and private wine tasting. (We neglected to tell our poor daughter Rachel that she did not have to empty each glass-by the time she finished her fourth glass, my 16 year old daughter said, "Dad, do I HAVE to finish every glass..I think I am getting drunk")

Jean-Paul went to the two World Cup games that my son Ian and I saw, Samoa-Tonga and Tonga-USA. After both games, my son and I both enjoyed a "third half" with Jean Paul and some of his friends. A few days later, Jean-Paul introduced my son Ian to the joys of Pastis. (We both ended up crashing the night at his place)

After 2007, my friend's life took a turn for the worse. He struggled with depression and his marriage fell apart. When I saw him last year, while I was in Europe, I was shocked how much he had aged in 5 years. Still, it sounded like he was getting his life back in order-he was very involved in local politics in Puissierguer and trying to be an involved dad.

I guess when you get to be over 50, it should not be a total shock that you start losing some friends. Jean-Paul is my first really close friend to die since my high school wrestling team mate Steve Briggs got killed in a car accident in 1988, when he was only 27 years old.

As I sit here at my computer in Los Angeles, I am just stunned. I had really hoped to one day show him around the USA, or at least offer him some good meals while he stayed at my place. I so wanted to return the favor to him that he showed me back in 2004 and 2007. Thanks to Jean-Paul Sirat, and his kindness, my kids, Ian and Rachel, got to see and experience France in an entirely different way than most kids, who have to see France in the back of a crowded tour bus. My kids were able to see that there are really nice people in France....that they enjoy eating a really good meal and having conversation, and that, although French and American politicians may spar and have spats, French and American cultures each have aspects to be admired and appreciated.

I am going to miss a friend who was funny, blunt, curious who actually enjoyed writing post cards and letters as much as I do-even with the internet available-and had a passion for sports. I feel like a big part of my life is just gone...I hope that I can still maintain contact with Fabienne, Charlie and Léo. I hope that I can express to them just what a good friend Jean-Paul Sirat was.

Adieu mon pote. Tu me manques déja`....(Good bye, old buddy, I miss you already)

I will give Jean-Paul the final word. When he gave me a book for Christmas a couple of years ago called "Rugby Au Centre", a book on the art of inside center play in rugby. He wrote the following inscription:
 A` Steve
un ami pour la vie, malgré la distance, tu restes proche dan mon coeur, amicalement-Jean Paul
(To Steve, a friend for life, in spite of the distance, you stay close to my heart, your friend, Jean-Paul Sirat)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rugby World Cup Qualifying: USA against Canada this weekend.

It is hard to believe that with the orgy of rugby that will be Rugby World Cup 2015 in England
, qualifying is well under way for those of us in the minnow nations-which includes the USA Eagles.

This Saturday, the Eagles will host Canada in the first of a two-legged, total points series of game at Charleston, South Carolina.

It's obvious that the Yanks picked hot, humid, Charleston to try to gain any type of advantage against the Canucks. To be honest, I was surprised-and a little bit disappointed that USA rugby picked Charleston over Houston, Texas.
Houston, Texas has shown to be big supporters of the USA Eagles
If USA rugby was hoping to make the Canadians suffer in heat and humidity, Houston in August is one of the most uncomfortable American cities that I have ever been in. The other reason it was a disappointing move by the suits with USA rugby is that the city of Houston has shown great support in two friendly matches between the Eagles and Italy last year, and the Eagles and Ireland(Well, Ireland's B squad since the best Irish players were on the Lions tour of Australia) that was played in the new home of MLS's Houston Dynamo, the BBVA Compass Stadium.

It also seems to me that if USA Rugby wants to be more big time, going with a legitimate stadium in a city that has supported USA rugby-particularly if you want the game played in hot, uncomfortable conditions for the visiting team.

The Eagles will have to go against the Canucks without center Paul Emerick, who just announced his retirement from rugby. The 33 year old played in 3 Rugby World Cup's for the USA. He played professionally over 8 years in Italy, England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

4 years ago, the USA got a win in South Carolina, only for the Canadians to run rough-shod over the USA in the return match.

The Eagles were hoping to get some confidence in a recent game against Japan, but the Japanese continue to show that they have passed the USA in a big way, as they build towards building a team for  the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

It would make life a lot easier for the Eagles if they can somehow beat Canada, but will this be another episode of just having caught a tiger by the tail?

Dickie's Nurse's Scrub Review....

Dickie's one-pocket scrub top
It's not often when I am asked to review nurse or medical scrubs, but I had a chance to try out the one pocket men's scrub top from Dickies.

Being a guy, I have a lot of blue or scrub pants that go with navy blue, so I did like the color. The shoulders on it were plenty big for a wide-bodied propnurse like me. The fabric was durable, and the scrub top came out well in the wash. My only complaints were that I prefer scrub tops with the two side pockets-handy to place alcohol wipes, pens and all manner of other things nurses seem to gather during the course of a shift. I also think that if Dickies can come out with a tapered scrub top for men-particularly weightlifter-types like me-it would be roomy enough in the shoulders, but not boxy-looking.  That said, it was plenty comfortable when I wore it to work.
And a side view of the Blue Dickie's Medical Scrub

If you are interested in ordering this style of scrub top, readers of my blog can save some $ by using the coupon code: "trueblue" which is 15% off until Aug 31st 2013

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Toulon Gets Castres-ated in French Final

Like a lot of people, I thought that the French Final would come down to Toulon against Clermont Auvergne. They finished one-two in the regular season standing for the Top 14 and they played out an epic final for the Heineken Cup two weeks ago in Dublin, where Johnny Wilkinson and his merry band of mercenaries in red and black prevailed over Vern Cotter's(who just became the coach for Scotland) men.
Olympique Castres: Shock winner's of Le Bouclier de Brennus, the holy grail of French Rugby

Somebody forgot to show Olympique de Castres the script. They smoked Montpellier-a H-Cup quarterfinalist in the first round playoff. Then they shocked Clermont Auvergne in the semi-finals in Nantes. So much for a rematch between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne.

 Castres as last lifted Le Bouclier de Brennus in 1993. It had been even longer for Toulon, who were last the champs of France in 1987.  Most people, myself included, thought that Bernard Laporte's band of internationals would smoke Castres at the Stade de France today. Castre's 19-14 upset today in Saint-Denis showed why sport can be such an unpredictable and amazing thing.

Toulon had a lot of early ball possession, and French inside center Mathieu Bastareaud was running hard and making life tough for the men from Languedoc. Johnny Wilkinson just missed on a 40 yard drop goal attempt and came a couple of yards short on a 51 yard penalty attempt.

It looked like it was going to be tied at half-time, when Freddie Michalak muffed a kick for a knock-on, which gave Castres a nice attacking scrum in Toulon Territory. Most people thought that Castres would  go for the drop goal-but then South African-born fly half Rory Kockott did an amazing little bit of slight of hand, broke a tackle, and planted under the posts for a try, which visibly shocked the team from the Var.

In the second half, Wilkinson was able to get Toulon to within a point, 9-10, when Tale was able to hit a couple of nice drop goals for Castres, and Kockott added a penalty to put the game out of reach, meaning that Delon Armitrage's( who was whistled every time he touched a ball in the final by the Castres faithful.) try in the 80th minute was mere consolation for Toulon, as Castres shocked the European champs, 19-14, to lift le Bouclier de Brennus for the fourth time in team history.

It was a nice way to walk off in the sunset for Castres Coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit, who will be taking over at Racing Metro 92 in Paris for the 2013-14 season.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Toulon and Clermont Auvergne: High Drama in Dublin.

Toulon and Clermont Auvergne have not just been the two best teams in the French Top 14, but they have looked to be the two best club sides in Europe throughout this 2012-13 Heineken Cup season.

Vern Cotter's high flying Michelen Men have been racking up points at a dizzying rate all year. Toulon's band of expensive team have played some very good rugby throughout the season. Both teams were trying to win their first Heineken Cup title. Toulon has had a run of bad luck in finals from the last 20 years. In spite of the money shelled out, they have yet to win any hardware. Clermont Auvergne have only recently removed a gorilla-sized monkey from their yellow and blue backs three years ago, when they finally hoisted Le Bouclier de Brennus, the grail of the French Top 14.

In the end, Toulon came from behind to win a 16-15 nail-biter. In spite of all of the possession that Clermont had, Johnny Wilkinson and his mates held their discipline and did not concede a penalty that Clermont could have cashed in for the winning points. Johnny Wilkinson was a key player for Toulon, scoring 3 penalty goals and a conversion off Delon Armitage's tongue and finger wagging try that was set up beautifully off turnover ball provided by Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

Early in the second half, the two tries that Clermont scored from Nalaga-in a nice bit of keeping his feet in-bounds in spite of going at great pace; and Brock James cashed in off some nice work from Rougerie, would be enough to see the Michelen men through.

Wilkinson's boot kept Toulon around. He also would play a key role late in the game when he and Bastareaud would charge down a late drop goal attempt by David Skrela to help seal the Toulon win. For a man whose moment in the sun has been his iconic drop goal for England against Australia in the 2003 RWC final, the addition of the Heineken Cup was the fruition of the Resurrection of his career on the south coast of France.

As good as this final was, there is the strong possibility that these two teams can be playing each other in a couple of weeks-if they can win their semi-finals against Castres and Toulouse, who were both able to rest their aching bodies this past weekend. One thing for sure, a lot of fans would love to see Toulon and Clermont throw it down again with Le Bouclier de Brennus on the line. I will say, it was one of the best Heineken Cup finals I have seen in awhile. It was too bad that somebody had to lose, but I think a lot of people-particularly in England-were pulling for Johnny Wilkinson and his mates in Red and Black.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Catching up on Rugby News for Metropolis and Pasadena.

Wow, I have been really remiss in posting. So much for my New Years Resolution. I started OK, but after mid-March, I kept finding something else to do.

The two club sides in the USA that are the closest to my heart, Metropolis RFC in Minnesota and the Pasadena RFC out in California both had impressive play in the past month to qualify for Nationals: Metropolis won the Midwest Division I title in simply dominant fashion, by smoking long time rivals-and a fellow national semi-finalist from last year, Palmer College 74-5. That is not a typo. It surely has to be the greatest margin of victory Metropolis had against a team that is one of the powers in Midwest rugby. Metropolis gets Middlesex in the Sweet 16 in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is the rest of the Division I  Bracket:'s-di-clubs/7872-mens-di-club-bracket-updated.html
Pasadena had to overcome a serious upset bid from San Fernando Valley in the Southern Cal Semifinals

Pasadena had a slightly rockier road in the Southern California DII playoffs. The number two seed had a much tougher match than anticipated against San Fernando Valley, coming from behind to win in dramatic fashion, 25-10. In the other semifinal, Las Vegas, the number one side, was dumped 11-10 by South Bay-a team that was riding an emotional roller coaster after losing their fullback in a car accident.  The team, made up of players of mostly Pacific Island origin came into the final with their hard-hitting style. Again, Pasadena had to come from behind to pull off the emotional win in a very, very tense game, 27-15, that was much closer than the score would indicate. Pasadena's reward is a Sweet 16 match against the local Frisco Griffins, in Dallas.'s-dii-clubs/7880-dii-mens-club-bracket-update.html
Pasadena will hope to ride the strong back of Little Ray...
All in all, a great couple of weeks for the two clubs that are near and dear to my heart. My rugby past and present has put a spring in this old prop's step this.

Oh, one more thing. Both clubs are just loaded with great people. I think rugby people are the nicest people anywhere, but I feel doubly lucky to have been involved with both of these winning, classy clubs.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

6 Nations: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction...

After the November Internationals, a lot of people picked France as the favorite to win the Six Nations. Wales looked to be a Wooden Spoon candidate. That belief that Wales was sinking like the SS Minnow gained momentum when Wales had a horrible first half in their fist game against Ireland. Wales mounted a furious comeback in the second half, but came up short against Brian O'Driscoll and his mates.

France, who had played so well in November, would lose their first match against Italy in Rome. Phillipe St. André and his men ended up winning the dreaded wooden spoon, in spite of their close win against Scotland at the Stade de France.

England looked all set to win their first grand slam since 2003. After looking great against Scotland in the opening game, England would have a harder and harder time as the tournament progressed. They did not score a try in their last two games against Italy and Wales. Stuart Lancaster's men ran into a buzz-saw in Cardiff, getting blitzed by the Welsh 30-3, meaning that Wales won the Six Nations.

Wales, if not for their horrible opening 45 minutes against the Irish, very well could have won another grand slam. As it is, putting a serious beat-down on England 30-3 in front of a delirious home crowd in Cardiff signaled that they managed to turn things around after a dreadful November.

You have to give the Welsh credit for playing with a great deal of intensity and purpose. Halfpenny and  Warburton had monster games. The Welsh front row gave England fits.

2013 ended up being a good vintage for Welsh Rugby.
Wales the champs, France with the "Cuilliere en Bois"-their first since 1957. Who would have thought of THAT back in November.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Las Vegas Sevens: The World Comes to Las Vegas...and a Strange World It Is...

Kenya always brings a lot of fans to Las Vegas
With a Samoan Fan
I Just got back from the Las Vegas Sevens. A lot to talk about, but since it's almost Midnight, and I need to get to work in the morning, I thought I would share some pics I took over the weekend of fans from all over the world who descended upon Sin City for Rugby and fun....
Add capWho Knew Miss Canada was in the House?

New Zealand Fans....
Aussie Fans...
Fiji Fans were plentiful
Captain Americas-with Three blind mice...

The Spanish Inquisition
Fiji Fans
England was in the House...

My Friend Tom Daniels found some other Scotland Fans..
A young South African Fan...
A young Samoan Fan with his mother....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Two Weeks Until the IRB Las Vegas Sevens

I have been to two IRB Rugby World Cups, but I have yet to catch any of the IRB Sevens Series. That is about to change, as in two weeks from today, my friend Tom Daniels and I will be soaking in the rugby and the social seen in the stands that make up the series.

We got tickets for the Saturday and Sunday sessions. I work until 4:30 PM on Friday. My wife will have to pick me up at work, then we need to do our 4 hour drive from LA to Las Vegas. Well, it's normally a 4 hour drive, but traffic can be very heavy on Friday afternoons on the I-15 heading to Vegas. There is nothing more surreal than being in the middle of the desert, but stuck in a massive traffic jam as if you were on the Santa Monica Freeway.

Tom's wife could care a toss about the rugby-so while Tom and I are watching rugby, his wife Linda and my wife can shop or do spa treatments.

I had always been curious to stay at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, so we were able to reserve rooms in a place more people remember from the Rat Pack's hangout... and where Motorcycle jumper Evel Kneivel bit asphalt back in 1967. It's a big of old Vegas that is still around on the strip.

Really looking forward to watching rugby, meeting fans from all over the world-and just plain having a good time. If you are going to be in Las Vegas during that weekend of February 8-10, drop me a line. I have been lucky enough to meet some other rugby bloggers in Europe and New Zealand, and would be happy to meet more rugby fans from the blogosphere.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Full Saturday:Pasadena's Win, USA Rugby's Summit, and Catching Up with Friends...

It was quite a rugby weekend here in my neck of the woods in Southern California.

My new rugby home, Pasadena hosted the South Bay Rugby Club. The Rhino's roster is loaded with players of Pacific Island origin.  It would be a contrast of their size and physicality against the speed and fitness of Pasadena.  Pasadena would score an early try...
The only try Pasadena would score-but it was enough

Pasadena attempts to steal a South Bay throw in.
Pasadena's kicking game did a good job of keeping the Rhino's pinned in their own half, as well as scoring 6 points off of penalties. It was a very nervy and tactical game in the second half. South Bay was able to score a try to make it 13-5. South Bay had one man sin-binned for dangerous play(and really should have had a second player yellow carded for a dangerous tackle)
Another Rhino infraction penalized...

In the end, Pasadena's fitness and discipline in avoiding needless penalties was enough to hold onto the hard fought 13-5 win in a match that was played in simply pristine, 70+ degree, windless conditions in Pasadena.

USA Rugby had it's National Development Summit in Costa Mesa, California down in Orange County. It's a conference that touched on a myriad of subjects, from coaching, to player safety, and getting the sport out to younger kids in the USA. It also gave vendors a chance to showcase their wares, like some of these scrum sleds...
I had a little old home time by running into Chris Babiash. I first met Chris 7 years ago, during my first year with the Metropolis RFC back home in Minneapolis. I played with him back at the Aspen Ruggerfest in 2010, and two years ago in Minneapolis, when the Old Laurentians came to Minnesota, and we had an Old Boys game. He is a very busy man working for Rugby Athletic and working hand in hand with USA Rugby. He has a young family, but his work is keeping him on the road quite a bit this year: L.A, Houston and Las Vegas in the early part of this year. It was great to talk with Chris and catch up with news about his family, Metropolis, Rugby Athletic and USA Rugby. In spite of him being a die-hard Green Bay Packer fan, he's a good guy. I admire what he did while president of Metropolis RFC(he was part of the group that suggested Metropolis start fielding two full time teams), and just being very a supportive to a 45 year old guy wanting to play rugby when I first joined Metropolis 7 years ago.

 It was just great to catch up friends like Timaris Montano, who along with her husband Chee, are preaching the gospel of the Oval Ball to kids in Gallup, New Mexico. Along with being active parents of their own kids, they reach and help an awful lot of young people that goes beyond teaching scrum and rucking skills. (Her family still wonders what ever became of the white guy who got his car stuck in the ditch trying to find her daughter's Kinaalda Ceremony, signaling her arrival to Navajo womanhood)
Timaris Montano, Rugby Apostle in Gallup, New Mexico.
Timaris, my wife (AKA 'Da Redhead') and I had fine late evening talking about our families and what is going on getting kids playing rugby in western New Mexico.  Timaris and her Husband Chee are just  wonderful people-like a lot of people involved with rugby.

I started my Saturday watching some hard-fought rugby, while getting to know some very nice people with my new club, and ended my Saturday still talking rugby with some first-class people. All in all, it was a Saturday well-spent.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Alive and Well and Playing Rugby in Southern California-Albeit, a Bit Sore.

Since moving out here to LA 7 months ago, I have not been doing as good of a job keeping up with my blog. It's not that there are not things going on in the world of the oval ball, I just have been very remiss is sitting down and blogging.

Back in August, I played with the Pasadena Old Boys at an over-40 tournament in Newport Beach. It was a good time, and I was looking forward to playing with them this weekend. The plan was there to be an A squad, B Squad and an old boys game when Huntington Beach drove out to Pasadena. Well, the Old Boys game got cancelled, and the B squad needed some help at prop, so guess who volunteered to play?

I was a bit concerned, as for the past two months, I have been lifting weights, but very little cardio, and the holiday season, and quite a few California micro-brews plumped me up from 213 pounds to 225 pounds. Oh well, compared to B squad props for Huntington Beach, I looked like a swimsuit model, so it was OK.

I really was not sure how many minutes I could play. I'm 52 now, and most of my new mates out on the pitch looked a whole lot younger, but I gave it my best shot. I told the coach I would try to give him a half.

I ended up playing 70 minutes. I have to admit that I have played better, but at least I felt that I was able to hold my own in the scrums -although the toughest thing was getting used to the new "Crouch, touch, set" cadence after the last 6 years of "Crouch, touch, pause, engage."(The ref also needed to speak up, a lot of us in the front row had a hard time understanding him)and had no troubles with the line-outs.
(it helps when you are lifting a guy who is really young and trim)

I think the other thing that helped me last 70 minutes was that my young, fit teammates on Pasadena's B squad ran like unchained Salukis against Huntington Beach, scoring several tries. (for the record, the A squad won their match 31-12) While sucking in some much-needed air after I came off the pitch, I grabbed my camera to take a shot of the scoreboard-a minute too early, as we ended up adding a late try to make it 70-0.

Today, Sunday, I have some muscle soreness, some cuts on my face, but otherwise feel pretty good. Oddly enough, the part of my body complaining the most today are my feet and heels from running on the hard, fast track in Pasadena.

It's shaping up to be a busy next month. I have friends from out of town coming to California for a large USA Rugby developmental conference next weekend. I have tickets for my friend Tom Daniels and me to go to Las Vegas next month for the Las Vegas Sevens competition. (We'll be staying in Caesars while in Vegas, so if you happen to be there, look me up) I promise to try to do a more regular job of blogging.