Big time Rugby comes to Jacksonville, again!

by Daniel Goncalves
Jacksonville loves football. We love our Jag’s regardless of how good (or bad) they played this last season. It’s a hard hitting, action packed game, what’s not to love? Well, if you think that’s hard hitting, let me tell you that you ain’t seen nothing yet mate!
From what I saw at Hodges Stadium at UNF on 1/17 it seems like Rugby is a cross between NFL and UFC! These guys are no holds barred with bloody noses and nasty take downs. They just get up and keep going. In my opinion, without breaks in between plays, it’s definitely more fast-paced than NFL.
The United Kingdom’s Leed’s Rhinos and Salford City Reds came to town, and they didn’t bring any protective padding.
Spinner Howland of Jacksonville’s very own Rugby team (Jacksonville Axemen) was instrumental in organizing this event.
The event helps cover the expenses of traveling here for both teams, as well as raising money for charities like the Jack Del Rio Foundation. Last year’s event was the first in Jacksonville. Russell Crowe’s South Sydney Rabbitohs were the headliners and they brought in an amazing 12,500 fans. “Twelve and a half thousand people blew our minds. Here we were with a 10,000 seat venue and we put 12,500 in it,” says Howland.
When asked how they were expecting this year’s attendance to compare, Howland replied, “If we get somewhere between a third to a half of those people to show up we’re pretty happy.” The count on game day was somewhere around 5750. A great turn out.
EU was curious as to what the Limey’s thought about the First Coast and what type of activities they enjoyed during their visit. Howland told me that both teams were pretty much in “Lockdown” and training very seriously so they didn’t have a lot of down time.
Howland organized a dinner at Cantina Laredo for some authentic Mexican food. He mentioned that they were pretty excited to have the real deal as Mexican food isn’t very popular in the U.K. There was also a lunch where fans were invited to eat along side both teams at Outback Steakhouse. He also ordered thirty something one-and-a-half-pound Wall of Fame Burgers at Times Grill as a treat for their hard work after the post match function.
Leed’s Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield mentioned he didn’t have much time off the from their training but that “we’ve been doing a lot of shopping,” he said (in his strong English accent). They hit up St. John’s Town Center and St. Augustine’s outlet mall looking for good deals and taking advantage of the strong exchange rate of the British pound.
If you know the Brits then you know how they love the beach. I asked if they had been surfing. Sinfield responded, “not yet, I think one of the guys bought a surf board and was body boarding in the pool….one of the bright ones.” I’m sure the waves never came, but sweet victory sure did when the Rhinos came up with a 12-10 win over the Reds.
Didn’t make it to the big game? No worries mate! Jacksonville’s finest, the Axemen kick off their season in May. More information at