Sharing a love for rugby

Published 8:01 pm Monday, December 10, 2012

Rob Holder, left, and Jake Levison watch a two hand toch game of rugby Friday evening at Wescott Athletic Complex. Holder, an Austin native who owns Spearhead Rugby Academy in White Bear Lake, brought some of his players down for a small seminar with Austin kids from Austin High School. Levison is looking for interested kids to possibly start a club. -- Eric Johnson/

A group of Austin High School students with a newfound interest in rugby were able to see the sport up close and personal last week.

The group of about 10 students, which has been working on rugby skills with Austin teacher and assistant soccer coach Jake Levisen recently, met with rugby players from the Spearhead Rugby Academy, which is based out of the White Bear Lake and run by Austin grad Rob Holder, Friday.

Alex Cisneros, a player with the Spearhead Rugby Academy, finds some running room while playing a quick game of touch rugby with Austin students at Wescott Athletic Complex Friday night.

“It was a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes to see how a team interacts and respects each other,” Levisen said. “In rugby everyone needs to trust each other and every position is unique.”

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Levisen has worked with the group of students on the basics of rugby, which include passing, agility and the constant motion the game requires. When he heard that players from the SRA would be coming to Austin, he knew it was a great chance to generate more interest in rugby.

Holder had visited Austin with his team in the past, but usually they just visited his parents’ nativity scene and checked out the SPAM museum. This was the first time he got to mix a little bit of rugby into the trip.

“We had a really good time,” Holder said. “It was cool to see the changes at AHS and it was really great to see my Academy guys mentoring the high school kids.”

The players who make up Spearhead Academy must be attending a technical college or college to be in the Academy and they come from all over the United States.

Holder graduated from Austin and he coached Division I rugby at Stanford and Air Force Academy, where he won a national title in 2003, before starting up the SRA in 2010. He has a coach on his staff who played professional rugby for Manchester City.

David Lopez escapes from Cole Peterson during a pick-up game of Rugby with members of the Spearhead Rugby Academy from White Bear Lake Friday at Wescott Athletic Complex.

Levisen said a lot of the students in his group, which began its rugby workouts last spring, had watched rugby over the summer to get a feel for it and they were very excited to talk to the likes of Holder and his players.

“It’s cool when they come back to me and start to really learn about the game,” said Levisen, who played rugby at Luther College and now plays for the Rochester Rogues and a Luther Alumni Team. “There’s a lot of rules in rugby. People say you can play the game your whole life and never know all of the rules, but we focus on the basics.”

As for his academy, Holder said it’s going about as good as it could after two years. It has 13 students total.

“I think this is about all we can handle right now, but I think it’s going well,” Holder said. “Our players are doing well in school and on the field.”