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USTRANSCOM coach leads Air Force rugby team to sixth inter-service championship

The Air Force Rugby team won the Inter-Service Rugby Championship, Nov. 13, at Fort Benning, Ga., for the sixth straight year. Air Force shut out the Army 34-0 and, over the five tournament matches with the Coast Guard, Army, Navy and Marines accumulated a total score of 226-3.

Moments after the final victory, the Royal Australian Air Force team challenged them. They too fell to the U.S. Air Force ruggers 34-18.

And you probably didn't even know the Air Force had a team.

If that's the case, or perhaps you don't even know what rugby is, Lt. Col. Dan Lockert at the United States Transportation Command can tell you all about it. He's been involved in the sport as a player since 1988 at Auburn and is the Air Force team's coach.

"From 2000 to 2004, I played on the all Air Force team and became the all Air Force coach in winter of 2006," said Lockert, an O'Fallon resident. "The team members are from all over the Air Force, active duty, guard, reserve. They're from Korea, Italy, Japan, England. There are tryouts every March in Savannah, Ga."

After the tryouts, coaches work on putting the team together for the upcoming season. Lockert says he sends notices to the all the selected players and tells them what they need to work on and directs them to fill out all the paperwork needed to get their permissive TDY orders.

"They try out, and in June the coaches get together," Lockert said. "Every player gets feedback from the trial venue, either face-to-face or written from the coaches."

Once accepted to the team, players report for an intensive training camp.

"We'll show up in Savanna and do six practices and then go into a weekend tournament with three teams in at least two games," Lockert said. "Six training sessions and three or four matches, then for Armed Forces we'll bring them in several days before the tournament, tow practices a day for three or four days.

"Then we go on to the tournament, play two games on the first day, two on the second and then finals on the third day. The rest of the year, they are playing with their own teams, like the Scott Rowdies."

Two members of this year's winning team play on the Rowdies, Staff Sgt. Sydney Kneubuhl and Tech Sgt. Nicolas Conner, both with 635th Supply Chain Management Group at Scott Air Force Base.

"Rugby is one of the sports (in which) you have the best team effort, Kneubuhl said. "If everybody knows their positions, it makes your job so much easier. You might not have all the stars, like in basketball. In rugby, if everybody can do their position, your team can probably beat anybody."

"To me it's the perfect sport for the all-around athlete," Conner added. "You can play offense and defense."

The Air Force team is ripe with all-around players, which is a main reason for the phenomenal success.

"We have a huge depth of players," said Lockert. "And we don't deviate much from the game plan. And we have a lot of flexibility, depth and versatility in all our players. They can all play positions other than their own, if needed.

"There's no end to the combination you can put on the field on any given day," Lockert continued. "I can have somebody get hurt and there's someone right behind him who can play the position or another position and then it's like you haven't really lost anything."

Rugby matches have been described as violent, non-stop, organized mayhem, by first-time or casual viewers of the sport. But play looks rougher than it actually is.

"Rugby is a physical sport, but not as dangerous as football," Lockert said. ""I football, most of the injuries are at the knees and concussions. Football has a line of scrimmage. There is no line of scrimmage in rugby. You can't block anybody. In rugby you know where the hit ie =coming from. Very seldom are you blindsided.

"You have to tackle below the shoulders so you can't horse-collar like in football or head tackling, all that stuff is illegal," Lockert added. "You can get banned for life for severe infractions."

If you would like to witness a rugby match first-hand, you are in luck. The Scott Rowdies Rugby Football Club plays at various metro-east locations including Belleville's North End Park. To get the team's schedule, go to http://rowdiesrugby.com/.

Anyone interested in playing rugby with the Air Force team or just learning more about Air Force sports should visit http://www.usafsports.com. The team will hold primary trial camp in March 2010.

Office of Public Affairs - transcom-pa@mail.mil
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