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Ruggers follow a Colusa County tradition
Colusa County has a rich history as a rugby hotbed in Northern California.
A rugby club has called Colusa County home off-and-on since 1974, and though there have been stretches when the team disbanded, it never takes long for somebody to bring it back.
For the first time in eight years, Colusa County Rugby Football Club is back on the pitch with a mix of old and new leadership. The club beat the Reno Zephyrs 36-7 on Saturday to improve to 6-0 - a feat even the old boys of the strong clubs of the 1970s can't remember achieving.
Colusa will finish the regular season in Reno against the Reno Rugby Academy on Saturday with a chance to enter the playoffs undefeated.
Much of the success of this iteration of the Colusa club can be traced to origins of the team Jim Marengo helped start in 1974.
Marengo, who played on a rugby club in Woodland in the early '70s, was convinced he knew enough people in Colusa County who would be better than his teammates in Woodland. So he formed the first Colusa County Rugby Football Club.
He was right, and for 10 years the club was highly competitive, playing against the top club and college teams around the country - but the team's run ended in 1984.
"It disappeared and then came back for a few years," Marengo said. "And now it's back for the third time."
While the '70s team was competitive, the team that formed in the 1990s was a little more laid back he said.
Rugby is a social sport where the home team hosts the visiting team, often with a post-game party. Colusa hosts its postgame festivities at The Refuge in Colusa.
"There used to be a shirt that said, 'My drinking team has a rugby problem,'" Marengo said. "But these guys want to play, they want to get in shape and they want to beat somebody.
Many of the players on the current Colusa club are the children of former players. Greg Beckley was one of the founding players on the original team and his son, Cody Beckley, was instrumental in bringing back the club this time.
"It might have been in his blood," Greg Beckley said. "He's part Australian."
Cody Beckley grew up watching his father play but didn't really think about playing himself until college.
"The first rugby game I went to I was 4 or 5 months old," Beckley said. "I just remember growing up at the rugby pitch watching my dad and all his friends."
Beckley played for the Sacramento Capitals Rugby Football Club before restarting the Colusa team with the help of Christian Cowsert.
"Rugby has been part of this town before," Beckley said. "Growing up there's just a lot of athletes in Colusa County schools that were still around. I figured if we could get them together we'd have a really good team."
But the players exceeded his most optimistic expectations and the community rallied around the club. At least 100 people showed up to cheer on the team Saturday despite constant rain — and the crowd has been much larger when the weather was better, Beckley said.
While Beckley went around gathering potential players, Coswert, who was on the team in the '90s, put together the paperwork to bring the club back.
Both were surprised when 25 people showed up to the first meeting and the size of the team grew as they began practicing.
"I think back when the team was started in the '70s because they were so good and won a national title," Cowsert said. "It kind of ingrained it in the community's sense of athletics."
Though only four or five of the players had any prior rugby experience, the team quickly learned the rules of the game, Cowsert said. But going undefeated through six games was a huge surprise.
"I told the guys that if we went 3-3 or 4-2 we'd have a great season," he said. "These guys have outperformed my expectations by far."
Cowsert and Beckley brought back several former players to help teach the rookies on the team the fundamentals and strategy of the game. They asked Bruce Montgomery, who played for the team in the '90s, to help coach the team.
He instantly agreed.
"I love the game," Montgomery said. "Anything to get back with the team, the game."
The club, which is in Division III, clinched the top playoff spot in the Northern Division of the Northern California Rugby Football League with its win over Humboldt on March 12.
Sean Amsden, one of the few veterans who plays on the team, hopes this next wave of players stick with the team and work to keep it around for good.
"In three years, half these guys will be living somewhere else and we need another group of guys to come up and fill that space," Amsden said.