By Brian Hightower | 04.11.14

Brian Hightower is giving us an inside look into Tiger Rugby's trip to the Melrose 7s. Here's installment #3.

Banner Day: the lost bags arrived, the sun came out, and I tasted Haggis for the first time!


Praise the Lord and Pass the Sunscreen
During this morning’s run, the sun actually broke all the way through the clouds...for two minutes. The crew was so taken by the rare appearance of the glowing orb that the training run was briefly halted. Tomorrow is supposed to be balmy. Partly sunny and in the mid-fifties!  Paul Holmes, who handles the strength and conditioning, will have to factor for the heat, and may have to scale back the running and increase fluids.

The Quiet Ones
Some of the skinny on this Tiger squad:
A few of the players have stepped into natural roles as vocal leaders on the field. Their chatter comes from confidence that has been forged through experience and by virtue of their position on the field. Taylor Howden - “Tails” - leads the huddles (he also leads the team in tatooed skin coverage) and measures his words carefully. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, it is meaningful. Ata Malifa and Zar Lawrence have been playing side by side, and if there is chatter on the field, it is usually coming from one of them (sometimes the subject matter is even about rugby). In a footrace, bet the farm on Zar. Zach Pangelinan and Don Pati are alternating halfbacks and give clear, simple directions during play. Both have good command of the game. Pati also has command over the sweetest mustache among us.    

There’s an old adage, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”  With this team, that may hold true. Mike Ziegler-‘Grumpy Z’ (a nickname he hates) - has been on a few tours in his time. He saves his energy off the field remaining somewhat quiet, despite his experience. He is a great restart winner, and has good ball handling skills for a big man. Darin Claasen has played for the Tiger Cubs, and is a silky, deceptive runner with solid skills. He may be the one player that you’ve never heard of that could have the most impact on this team’s performance. Dominic Mauer may be able to squat the entire opposing team. He plays in the backs, is built like a bulldog, and has pace to burn as well. If he could legally wear his Carhart hunting lid as a scrumcap, he would. Thretton “Thretts” Palamo is a bona fide threat on the field. Our entire party, not so secretly, is counting on Palamo on a blistering crash run, with a few bodies in front of him so that we can all see what human bowling looks like. He is a shy, gentle giant, and  one of the last people on earth that I’d want to tackle. Then there’s Perry Baker, perhaps the quietest of the quiet ones. He is the embodiment of smooth, with a frame that is, shall we say, aerodynamic. He’s a greyhound. Count on this formula: Baker + Space = Try.   

The Godfather
Why the Tigers get to Show Their Fangs in Scotland...
Keith Seaber has been around the game of rugby forever. There is wide speculation here in the Tiger camp that when William Webb Ellis carried the ball with ‘a fine disregard for the rules of football...’ that he had actually received a pass from Keith. Alright, he’s not that old, but close.

His rugby resume began as a Cambridge student during the days when Hitler was using England for target practice, and when Seaber wasn’t diving over goal lines, he was diving into bomb shelters.  Eventually he left his native land for North America, taking with him a passion for his beloved sport. Despite his career in the Royal Navy, he apparently lacked the navigational skills to find the United States the first time around and instead landed in Canada. There, he began a lifetime of working within the game and establishing connections that continue to bear fruit decades hence. In fact, the very reason why there is a Tiger rugby tour can be traced back to Seaber’s connections with Scottish rugby and the town of Melrose. He walks among the good people of this town as an adopted son.

The specifics of Keith’s ties to the game are too numerous to list. Both this author and tour manager Brian Vizard played 7s for him during our own glory days. His contributions to American rugby were recognized with induction into the founding class of the US Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011. Fittingly, his commemorative ring was presented by Vizard just last night in an intimate dinner here at the Melrose Rugby Clubhouse. This afternoon, Keith unconsciously rubs the new foreign object on his finger. It barely slides over an arthritic knuckle. No matter, he won’t be taking it off any time soon.

Men like Keith are responsible for the traditions of this game that we love, and it is important that we give them their due. They exist in every true rugby community. Players will come and go, teams will fail or succeed, but the backbone of the game consists of people who have dedicated their energies and their free time to ensuring that there are opportunities for players like Pati, Pangelinan and Palamo. They are the keepers of the rugby ethos, our own invisible equivalent of the Olympic torch, that is lit and then carried by players and supporters alike during every rugby event. It has been lit here in Melrose. Long may it burn.