When Michael Hurley moved to Steamboat Springs 2 1/2 years ago, he found the Steamboat Rugby Club in need of a makeover.
The team was older and not very competitive. A na----tive of Brisbane, Australia, Hurley grew up playing rugby at a high level and didn't want that to change just because the scenery around him had changed.
In recent seasons, Steam--boat has increased its number of matches and added a number of younger players, including several foreign-born men who grew up playing the sport, as well.
Consequently, the Steam--boat Rugby Club has become one of the better teams in Colorado. And for the first time, there is a Rocky Mountain Cup, which will be awarded to the top mountain club.
"We have an awesome team," Hurley said. "We will have a team this year that would make last year's team look ordinary."
Twenty-seven men showed up to practice Thursday night at Whistler Field, despite inclement weather. Hurley said he is expecting a few more to join the team when they return from college. The sport has caught on in Colorado -- and the entire country, which may come as a surprise to many who have not seen rugby live.
"There is a massive following in this country, more than people realize," Hurley said. "There are more registered rugby players here than in Australia or New Zealand combined. It's an outlet for people to go to. Some finish high school football and aren't going to make the college team, but they still want to play a good team sport with contact to it."
Rugby is similar to Amer--ican football, but the players don't wear pads or helmets and can advance the ball by hands or feet. The terminology is different, and there are several different rules, but those who enjoy watching football or soccer likely will enjoy rugby.
"This town will be known as Rugby Town USA," Hurley said.
This summer, the rugby team has six home games scheduled, including the annual Cowpie Classic tournament July 9 and 10 at the Ski Town Fields.
The remaining home matches are played at Whistler Field. The Steamboat Rugby Club practices from 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at Whistler Field.
Hurley said the club is accepting players of all ages and ability levels.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208
or e-mail mmawdsley @steamboatpilot.com