Tuesday, December 04, 2007




In this busiest of months for evening and seasonal events, don’t forget to set aside next Tuesday evening for the regular meeting of the NCRRS.

We will be meeting at the Golden Gate clubhouse on Treasure Island from 7 to 9 PM. Dinner will be provided beginning at 6.

Society REO David Williamson has put together another informative and entertaining syllabus for the 2008 season. This session will cover During the Game, Laws 7-12 and 22.

Bruce Carter will be talking about the referee’s role in dealing with injuries, especially those that are potentially serious. He would like attendees to prep for his presentation by reading the article entitled Play On, Eternally, which comprises the second half of this week’s HP.


The NorCal college men's D1 began this weeknd. St. Mary's, UC Davis and Chico State won. Cal had the bye.

MARITIME ACADEMY 65 – Stanford seconds 5 Referee: Paul Bretz

ST MARY’S 53 – Sacramento State 12 Referee: John Coppinger
Touch Judges: Eric Rauscher, Tom Zanarini
Led by captain and #13 Kevin Swiryn, who scored four tries on the day, St. Mary's ran past Sac State 53-12 Saturday in Moraga. (St. Mary's 17, Sac State 7 @ 40 m.)

St. Mary's demonstrated that the side has taken training very seriously as they simply wore out a game and committed Sac State side as the match progressed.

The match was played in generally good spirits with relatively few penalties, a tribute to both coaching staffs.

Thanks to Tom Zanarini and Eric Rauscher for running touch. Also present were Jim Crenshaw and Rich Anderson. Thanks to Jim and Rich for their coaching of the referee.

Seconds: ST. MARY’S 30 – Sacramento State 27 Referee: Tom Zanarini

BERKELEY 61 – U. of San Francisco 7 Referee: Dave Heath
Assessor: Bryan Porter
Game was played in good spirit and Berkeley's forward power and slick back play eventually overwhelmed a spirited USF side.

Very much appreciated Bryan Porter's presence on the touchline to give me support and advice.

Berkeley B Side 10 – SAN FRAN STATE/MISSION 50 Referee: Bruce Bernstein
What started as a pretty competitive game turned out to be a blowout by some moxie Fijians who are tabbed to play for the Mission, assisted by a very fast new winger for State who scored almost every time he touched the ball but not before outrunning or juking half of Berkeley's 2nd side.

(In retrospect this combined team should have played against Berkeley's first side; but who knew!)

East Palo Alto 19 – SACRAMENTO LIONS 26 Referee: John Pohlman
East Palo Alto Razorbacks hosted the Sacramento Lions this last weekend.

Bruce asked me on Thursday if I could do the game. I already had a game on Sunday at Stanford and was planning a relaxing day of gardening and honey-do's. (By the way, fellow ruggers, December is the honey-do month which should make the others into rugby months. We can dream).

I thought Razorbacks hosting the Lions versus Honey-Do's.

I arrived around noon at East Palo Alto's field. Sacramento was caught in traffic so the game was pushed back to 1:30.

Dave Topou is running the E.P.A. high school program and since Rob Holder was in Florida at the ITT's Dave took over the men's team for Saturday. The Razorbacks have been promoted to D-2 for this year. They had over thirty players warming up when I arrived.

One of the fans asked who I thought would win. I explained that Sacramento being a current D-1 team and EPA just moving up to D-2, I thought EPA may have a hard time with the speed of a D-1 opponent.

The Lions arrived with good numbers, probably close to thirty. I talked with the coach Nam and he said they were just getting going on the season. Nam went on to say how proud he was of the Hayward team and how their national championship had inspired all the Polynesian teams, especially Sacramento.

It was decided to play four 20 minute periods. The Lions started fast with a try in the first five minutes by one of their massive props. The rest of the first period was hard running and harder tackling. The lions controlled most of the next period. A yellow card to EPA's prop for repeated hands in allowed Sacramento to score another try right before half time.

Both teams made some subs. EPA's seemed to be younger and faster. EPA scored. Sacramento scored. EPA scored two more. If you ever wanted to see what it would look like to have a 300 pound razorback fight a 300 pound lion, that was the last twenty minutes.

Sacramento's leadership and discipline allowed them to score the last try and mostly control the end of the match.

A fun game to watch, play and referee.

The players from both teams gathered together after the game. They prayed. They wished each other good luck. They made a commitment to show and gain respect in THE Northern California Rugby Community.

Thanks, it's great to see the spirit of rugby.

Fresno: OVER 36 – Under 29 Referee: Bruce Carter
The defining age seemed to be about 35, with exceptions made for props. The older guys included three or four who used to play against the ref, who is now in his twentieth year refereeing full-time.

Fresno has a new pitch and plenty of commitment. The Fresno Regional Sports Complex is 110 acres of athletic fields, parking and picnic grounds. Two of the fields, which are adjacent, are full-size for rugby and one of these has rugby lines burned in.

The bathroom building next to the field includes male and female referee changing rooms with showers.

More than fifty players took the field in the course of the game, which was a see-saw affair.

The old boys scored from the kickoff after a series of quick rucks and then a spin to the wing. They did this again immediately after the water break at twenty minutes.

(Yes, while the Midwest was being paralyzed by a snow storm and our East Coast friends were preparing for their turn, rugby players in California needed a water break. It was in the low sixties, bright and sunny, no breeze. The sidelines featured skin.)

Meanwhile, the young boys scored two tries from the base of the scrum on missed defensive assignments – no post, pillar or guard dog.

The seniors scored again in the second half but then appeared to run out of gas: three tries were run in by the youth within about six minutes.

However, what had happened is the really old boys had been on the field all at the same time. ‘Balance’ was restored with the insertion of players like Dan Wilson and JoJo McKenzie. JoJo called for the ball, flyhalf Jeff Annas got it to him, and JoJo ran in under the posts for a famous victory.

UC Santa Cruz – Aptos Referee: Pete Smith
No report received.

Women’s College Round-Robin at UC Davis
Referees: Bjorn Stumer, Rob Hendrickson

Report by Bjorn Stumer:
"Saturday is a rugby day! And so it was at UC Davis were the Davis women hosted a mini rugby fest with Sacramento State and University of Nevada-Reno in attendance. Fellow ref, Rob Hendrickson and I handled the whistle for the four one-hour matches from 11am until 5pm (with some breaks in between).

UC DAVIS 12 – Sacramento State 5 Ref: Stumer
A very even match between two impressive and capable sides. There was no score in the hard fought first half, marred at the 29th minute when Sacramento's number 10 grabbed a ball runner by her pony tail - quick whistle and a yellow card for dangerous tackle. The guns came out in the second half with Davis scoring two tries, one of them converted. Sac was equal to the task, but could only respond with one unconverted try. A great match between two strong and committed sides. Great forward work by both teams with Davis' loosehead and Sac's propping captain and number 8 particularly impressive.

UC DAVIS 27 – Reno 0 Refs: Stumer/Hendrickson
As Rob had to leave, he and I split halves. The Davis ladies showed their power and depth by dispatching Reno 27 (17) - 0. A one sided match which spoke more of Davis' strength, than of Reno's weakness. To their credit the Reno ladies never gave up and gave the hosts a good run.

UC Davis seconds 0 – SACRAMENTO STATE 25 Ref: Stumer
Although tired, the Sacramento women were too much for Davis' B-side. Sacramento's running and cohesion were truly impressive, and it was only due to Davis' determined defense that the score was not higher.

Overall a great day of rugby. As usual it is a delight to officiate for women, who always seem to display good skills and sportsmanship. Davis were great host on their scenic pitch. A goodish crowd of supporters in attendance and plenty of sun on tap. Fun was had by all!"

Report by Rob Hendrickson:
UC Davis women hosted a friendly round robin tournament with Sac State and Nevada women on saturday. The weather was cool, and at times breezy, which led to some interesting clearing and up and under kicks almost becoming up and back kicks. Kickoff was at 11, and the games were 30 minute halves. Davis started against Sac State (Bjorn's game), followed by Nevada v Davis, a lunch break, and continuing (I did first half, Bjorn completed).

NEVADA 12 (2) – UC Davis women 0 Ref: Rob Hendrickson
Davis played back to back matchs and had the depth to face off against Nevada and come close to tying it up at two tries apiece, but for being held up and knocking-on in goal. What really impressed me was both team's ability to recycle the ball at rucks and then swing the ball out wide to their wings. While both teams have some work to do on their scrums, it looks like this will be a competitive season.


Stanford women seconds 0 – ALUMNAE 72 Referee: Sandy Robertson

A rookie-laden Stanford Women's second side took on an alumni team consisting of Stanford stalwarts from the '80's through their recent championship sides. The current Stanford team had a close-up view of the skills and open play support that have been Stanford's trademark.

Stanford men seconds 0 – ALUMNI 14 (tries) Referee: John Pohlman

STANFORD women 83 – California 5 Referee: Chris Tucker
Videographer: Bruce Carter

A speedy and well-organised Stanford team ran rings round a Cal team that is still a work in progress. The partisan crowd of Alums gathered to watch a try fest that wasn't even slowed by the reduction in Stanford's force to 13 players, the first for some dubious "rucking" and the second for repeated disdain for the location of the back foot at the ruck. To their credit, the Cal women put together some sustained pressure for 15 minutes later in the game which resulted in a second half try. However, generally speaking, a rush defence where only 2 out of 4 of the backs are rushing is not going to end well, and the score tells the tale.

(Videographer’s note: Chris is right. A ‘half rush’ defense gives the team with the ball a four-on-two, followed by another four-on-two.)

Stanford Men 14 – CHICO STATE 24 Referee: Jim Crenshaw
Touch Judges: John Pohlman, Bruce Carter

Stanford took a 14 - 0 lead but could not hold on to it. Chico State worked out the kinks in their kicking and found some hands in the backline in the second half.

Nevada 19 (3) – UC DAVIS 27 (5) Referee: Joe Leisek
Touch Judges: Phil Ulibarri, Russ Wilkening
John Sala Intramural Field, University of Nevada, Reno

A sunny, cool day on the UNR campus, with breathaking views of the mountains to the east. And speaking of views, in the distance approaching the pitch, I saw a man wearing what looked like an NCRRS jersey. It was Russ Wilkening, there to play for the UNR second side. Russ also graciously agreed to run touch for the first match. He and new ref Phil Ulibarri formed a set of referee TJs, which we all appreciated very much.

The game was played on a very fast all-weather surface, which of course led to many fast breaks and some interesting bounces and rolls of the ball. Davis had the early advantage, both in terms of possession and territory, and in fact went into the half with a 17-0 lead. Their scrummaging, ball retention, and backline had UNR on their heels for much of the half. That being said, the hosts' defense was very good. They are tenacious and quick.

UNR came back in the second half and made the most of their opportunities to score three tries and pull within eight points at full-time. Davis seemed to ease up on a gas a little late in the half. They also lost a player to a yellow card for last 10 minutes. Much credit for UNR's comeback is due to their scrumhalf and captain, Carl Zmaila.

After the match, I watched Phil referee a very exciting game that ended in a one-point victory for the visitors. Seeing me watching and taking notes, a man approached and asked: "Were you here to also critique the referee for the first game?" When I informed him I was in fact the referee for the first game, he said: "Ohhh, then I guess I won't be too critical."

This was my introduction to Chris Nolan, former Hastings teammate of many NCRRS referees and a former referee himself. His son played fullback for Davis in the first game.

Seconds: Nevada 30 – UC DAVIS 31 Referee: Phil Ulibarri
Referee Coach: Joe Leisek


A camp for developing Pacific Coast referees was held in conjunction with the Scottsdale tournament this past weekend.

Jacqueline Fink, Joe Androvich and Don Pattalock attended from NorCal, along with our REO David Williamson.



Paul did not submit an exchange report, so now he is fair game as this ‘music video’ will show:



I wrote this after witnessing two fatal head injuries in rugby games. It is re-printed here as a companion piece to my talk at the NCRRS meeting Tuesday, December 4. I would also like to think that rugby folk everywhere might benefit from reading it.

By Bruce Carter
From The Pelican's Beak
Volume VII, Issue 4
November 1999


Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.

Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Two Men of Rugby

My friend was a prop, an outdoorsman, a naval officer. My friend loved rugby. My friend played for Monterey. My friend was there for his mates. My friend had his last conscious moment on the pitch, betrayed by his own flesh, and went home the next day. His loved ones had the heart to know that life support was not part of his plan.

My friend was a wing, a family man, a churchgoer. My friend loved rugby. My friend played for Reno. My friend was there for his mates. My friend had his last conscious moment on the pitch, betrayed by his own flesh, and went home two days later. His loved ones understood that God was calling and that life support was not part of the plan.

A hundred miles and six years apart, they lay upon the grass. “Play on” suddenly was not to be. Pulse and respiration, basic functions of the most primitive ganglia, continued apace. Their faces shaded from the sun by caring teammates, their pupils slowly dilated as other brain centers felt the incipient, inexorable building up of pressure. One of them had a seizure, billions of neurons railing in concert against the dying of the light. Life was sublimating back into the ether.

Counting the minutes to the screaming arrival of the professional messengers of hope was all that I could do. Ambulances and medical centers were the last hope on this mortal coil for these two men.

My friends had had a fatal attraction to the game they now are playing in heaven: they both played despite serious previous head injuries. Fate then dealt them a final concussion.

A Fatal Attraction

Rugby players are notorious for disregarding their own safety. Like soldiers under fire, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their teammates, to help the side at their own expense. Then too, the pressures of another week in the working world want release come Saturday. As battle looms, the loins gird and the body’s humors rise. Once more unto the breach, indeed.

Compounding the potential for foolhardiness is the fact that concussion, the most common serious injury of rugby players, first ravages the very faculty upon which the player’s survival now depends: his judgment.

Jeopardizing a trick knee for the old school is one thing; wagering one’s life for the Siren of athletic success is another matter entirely. In this world, all that we have are life and each other. The forces of physics can converge on the cranial vault and steal these away in the closing of an eye.

A second concussion, one that occurs before the disruption of a previous head injury has been repaired, finds the blood vessels of the brain especially vulnerable. The second concussion, perhaps otherwise only a minor blow, can lead to bleeding. There is no room for the accumulation of blood within the skull except by compression of the spongy gray and white matter. The brain literally cannot function under this pressure and may die.

We referees are charged with keeping the game safe for the players. We occasionally have to evaluate whether a player should be allowed to continue.

The only specific guidance with respect to injury that the Laws give is an instruction from the IRB:

“A player who is suffering definite concussion should not participate
in any match or training session for a period of at least three weeks
from the time of injury, and then only subject to being cleared by
a proper neurological examination.”

A vital part of every referee’s kit bag then is the knowledge of how to tell when a player has been concussed.

A Key Question

You should consider concussion whenever a player may have had a head injury, which includes broken noses, black eyes and dangerous tackles. Ask him if he hit his head, if his head hurts, if he was ‘dinged’. Did he see stars; was he woozy; was he knocked out? Does he feel steady on his feet?

It is good to establish that he knows who he is, where he is, and what he is doing, but players with significant brain injuries can deduce the answers to these questions intellectually even while their memories are not functioning properly. They look around, see people in striped jerseys, see the graceful eucalyptus of Golden Gate Park and say, “I’m playing rugby at the polo field.”

I recommend one key question in addition to the others. Ask the player, “How did you get to the game today?” This tests recent memory, the most sensitive indicator of cognitive damage. Remote memory (“What is your name?”) and immediate memory (“What are you doing?”) may be deceptively normal in a person who will struggle for words and look to his teammates for help in knowing how he got to the pitch. If he says he drove, ask him who was with him. Ask him where his car is.

Incorrect answers or bluffing in response to any of these questions mandate that the player leave the game.

The American Academy of Neurology Guidelines

This is a brief summary of the best data available, presented for the on-the-spot use of lay (non-medically-trained) referees. You can easily access the source materials on the internet, starting with the Academy’s site at www.aan.com or from any search engine. Concussions are graded from 1 to 3 for the purpose of determining when an athlete should be allowed to return to play.

Grade 1 and 2 concussions do not involve loss of consciousness. Both of these are players who were ‘dinged’ or ‘stunned’ or ‘knocked for a loop’. They had an interval wherein they were aware that their own brain function was not normal. THIS IS THE ONLY REQUIREMENT TO ESTABLISH THAT A PLAYER WAS CONCUSSED: IN RESPONSE TO A HEAD INJURY, HE HAD ALTERED AWARENESS. The force or nature or angle of the blow need not be considered. THE PLAYER SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE PLAYING.

When he can resume playing then varies according to the severity of the injury.

GRADE 1: If the player’s symptoms are completely back to normal within five minutes and he is fully functional, this is a Grade 1 concussion. This player can return to activity after fifteen minutes of rest. As a referee, you have to trust someone on the sideline to determine whether the player is back to normal, but the player could take part in a subsequent game the same day.

When I suspect that a player might have had a head injury but lack evidence, I ask the coach or trainer to keep an eye on the player and to sound the alarm at any abnormal behavior.

If a player has had more than one Grade 1 concussions, he needs to be out at least a week. When you hear that this is the second ‘head shot’ of the tournament or that he ‘had one of these earlier’, require him to leave the game. Strongly advise him and the responsible members of his team that he should be formally evaluated by a physician prior to practicing or playing again.

GRADE 2: If any symptom or finding persists more than five minutes this is a Grade 2 injury. This means that if the player feels ‘off’ or ‘different’ or anything at all besides normal, or appears unsteady or unfocused after more than a few minutes have passed, the situation is worse than in Grade 1. This player should not play again for at least a week, subject to a professional evaluation. If he has had multiple Grade 2 injuries, or a Grade 1 followed by a Grade 2, the recommended rest interval will be longer.

GRADE 3: ANY LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, HOWEVER BRIEF, CONSTITUTES THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF CONCUSSION. This player is out of the game and should be seen by a doctor prior to resuming any physical activity. This applies even to the player who is sitting up and seems to be thinking normally when you talk to him, but who admits, “I think I was out for a second.” No athlete has ever falsely believed he lost consciousness during a match.

If a player is unconscious for more than one or two minutes, call for an ambulance. Lie him flat on his back and do not let his head move relative to his body – that is, stabilize his neck. As he starts to come around, restrain him from sitting up suddenly. Have someone familiar to him talk to him reassuringly as you await the EMS response.

To summarize what is already a very brief precis, ANY alteration of mental function after a head injury means the player has been concussed and should go off. If the player did not lose consciousness and is back to normal within five minutes, he can resume playing after fifteen minutes of rest.

All of those with more pronounced and/or prolonged symptoms should not be active for at least a week. If you are refereeing them in a tournament, try to ensure that they don’t play again. Beyond that, you can strongly advise them to seek medical attention before resuming any exercise.

Direct this advice at the player’s friends and his coach as much as at the player.

Play On, Eternally

I want to emphasize enlisting others on the player’s team in order to see to it that he obtain medical follow-up. I have learned that it is largely pointless to educate players about conditions and symptoms that should keep them from playing. Your average rugger will play anyway.

It is more effective to focus on educating players about the conditions and symptoms that should keep their TEAMMATES from playing. They care more for each other, in some ways, than they care for themselves.

Rugby is family. The circle draws tighter when one of us leaves. In a moment of grace we know our own mortality. We pause and ponder this enchanted spark of life, experiencing awe normally denied us.

Then the discomfit of self returns and we cease to muse. We want to play on. There is a game on next Saturday.

My two friends understand that we wish to play on, but they already have all the company they need for now.

Look out for your mates.

December Kickoff
For decades, the NorCal rugby season began at Stanford on the first weekend in December with the Stanford Tens.

This year the regular season kicked off for the men's colleges in early December, and one of the three games was played down on the Farm.

At the end of a four-game Sunday of rugby Chris Tucker and Jim Crenshaw flank Stanford assistant coach Josh Sutcliffe on one side, while John Pohlman takes the other.


For the Senate
Pelicus Scriptoris