On a crisp late November afternoon, a group of boys rush around on a field near Bubb Elementary, their faces flushed with exertion. They line up at the command of their coach, tossing an oblong ball in an impressively coordinated drill, then diving at each others' legs to practice their tackles.
It's typical for the city's youth to be seen playing baseball or kicking around a soccer ball. But two Mountain View residents with Irish roots have their hearts set on bringing a new sport to local fields: rugby.
To that end, friends and fellow rugby enthusiasts Tom Trill and Paul Lynch started a not-for-profit organization they hope will one day be a feeder for higher level teams.
The men are calling their new league American Youth Rugby Union, or AYRU. They are modeling the group after the popular American Youth Soccer Organization.
Lynch and Trill hope to form six co-ed teams of 10 players, ages seven to 12, for its first season, which will begin in January, and are looking to draw youth from Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale and even Los Gatos.
In the past few months, Trill says, they've seen about 45 youth come out for open practices, including a handful of girls.
Rugby is often described as a cross between American football and soccer, through Trill says it's safer than football and more fun than soccer. He adds that young people can learn skills from rugby that extend beyond the field, and that the sport calls for a uniquely high level of teamwork.
"It's true because in rugby there's a position for every player, irrespective of their ability in one skill or the other," he said. "To really experience a game of rugby, you need all sorts of people and personalities and skills, and they all have to work in unison, and if one piece breaks down the whole team breaks down."
He called it a "gentleman's sport," and says the players comport themselves accordingly. In soccer, he said, you often see players arguing with the referees. In rugby, players address the ref as "sir" — and what the ref says, goes.
Trill said rugby has a culture of spirit, camaraderie, respect and honor.
"To instill those values into our youth, even if they never continue to play the sport, I think they're life skills and life values that will stick with them throughout their days," he said. "So there's a lot more to it than just the game itself."
Trill and Lynch have put together an international staff — their refereeing director is from New Zealand and their coaching director is from Wales. And they're proud to have Mountain View-born Brian McClenahan, hooker for the U.S. men's national team the Eagles, serving on the AYRU's advisory board.
"Brian brings the highest level of rugby expertise to the team," Trill said. "And he's a local guy."
In some ways, McClenahan — who is making an appearance at one of the AYRU's open days in January — embodies what Trill and Lynch hope will be the future of American rugby. In fact, the national team recently qualified for the 2011 rugby world cup.
Despite the recent success of the national team, rugby is still somewhat unknown to youth recreation in the United States, Trill said, though it has not always been that way.
"The U.S. was a powerhouse in international rugby up until (the sport) lost its place in the Olympics," in 1924, he said. The sport was re-inducted into the games in October, and competition will resume at the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil.
Trill believes the success of the national team and the reemergence of rugby at the Olympics has set the stage for organizations like theirs.
"There's a platform for a huge wave of increased awareness of the sport in the United States," he said, adding that even Hollywood is noticing. The film "Invictus," released last Friday, Dec. 11, tells the story of how rugby helped unite South Africa in the wake of Apartheid. Matt Damon stars, as well as Morgan Freeman in the role of Nelson Mandela.
For more information or to register for the 2010 inaugural season, visit www.ayru.org.