Hillside rugby field lures national team to town for training camp

Beth Bragg
Alaska Demolition owner Justin Green has transformed his front lawn into a private rugby field, in the hopes of putting Alaska on the international rugby map. May 23, 2014
Tara Young
Alaska Demolition owner Justin Green has transformed his front lawn into a private rugby field, in the hopes of putting Alaska on the international rugby map. May 23, 2014
Tara Young
Alaska Demolition owner Justin Green has transformed his front lawn into a private rugby field, in the hopes of putting Alaska on the international rugby map. May 23, 2014
Tara Young
Alaska Demolition owner Justin Green has transformed his front lawn into a private rugby field, in the hopes of putting Alaska on the international rugby map. May 23, 2014
Tara Young

If you build it, they will scrum.

The Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds, the grassy, flashy new field on the Hillside built with an eye on putting Anchorage on the rugby map, will host its first big national event next month.

The U.S. women’s sevens team will hold a week-long training camp at the field, spokesman Chad Wise of USA Rugby said this week.

Participants at the Sept. 7-13 camp are among the frontrunners to make the team that will represent the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics, when men’s and women’s rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut.

Two Chugiak High graduates -- Alev Kelter and Lorrie Clifford -- are on the team, which recently placed seventh at the Women’s Sevens World Series in Amsterdam.

Having those local connections helped attract the national team to Anchorage, said Craig Cornichuck of the Alaska Youth Rugby Club, which is helping to plan the team’s week in Alaska.

But the real draw was the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds, a privately built, world-class field and facility that has gained international attention in the first year of its existence.

“I can guarantee you it wouldn’t have happened” otherwise, Cornichuck said.  

The field, built by rugby lover and Alaska Demolition owner Justin Green, has been used for a number of adult-league games and at least one international match. Cornichuck said the long-term goal is to use the field to make Anchorage a big deal in the rugby world while making rugby a big deal in Anchorage. So far, so good.

“There’s a lot going on,” Cornichuck said. “Part of our effort, and why that facility is there, is to promote rugby tourism, which is a real thing. This (camp) is a part of that.”

Meanwhile, the picturesque field is igniting interest in the sport around town, Cornichuck said.

Historically, Anchorage rugby has been the primary domain of men. The city has long fielded several men’s teams and a couple of women’s teams, but no youth teams. That’s beginning to change.

“The youth league is very nascent,” Cornichuck said, but it's growing. At a recent clinic, nearly 30 coaches and 10 referees were certified. And although Alaska Youth Rugby Club players are still learning and therefore playing a noncontact version of the game, Cornichuck expects the league will introduce contact next summer or the summer after.

While the more traditional form of rugby features 15 players per side, Anchorage kids are playing the seven-player version, which is what will be played at the Olympics. In sevens, a scrum features three players per team instead of eight. But the real difference is the time of game -- instead of two 40-minute halves, a sevens game consists of two seven-minute halves.

On the final day of its Anchorage camp, the national team will play a demonstration game at the Delaney Park Strip. The national team’s afternoon practices in Anchorage will be closed to the public, but players and coaches will spend their mornings visiting schools to introduce kids to rugby and encourage active lifestyles.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com