USA Rugby  

Flanker Dave Hodges captained the Eagles throughout 2000, and never failed to lead by example. Here he's captured doing the hard yards against Samoa.
Courtesy of Weber Shih, USA National Rugby Team
Good News, Bad News

Team Spirit, February, 2001

It is hard to know whether to congratulate or commiserate with Eagle flanker Dave Hodges right now.

The good news is that, following the USA’s tour of Scotland and Wales in the Fall, Hodges secured a contract with famed Welsh club Llanelli.

It was a credit to Hodges, the USA captain, that he grabbed one of the notoriously rare roster spots available to‘’foreigners’ in the Welsh league. Most often, those slots go to players from established rugby nations such as Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. Typically an American would need to work that much harder to prove himself, and Hodges did.

So much for the good news. The bad news is that the Scarlets are enduring a heart-breaking season. Their run in the European Cup is a case in point. Llanelli were locked in a battle with English heavyweights Gloucester for the right to advance to the playoffs from their pool. Last month, they lost a squeaker to the Cherry and Whites. In the dying minutes of the match, a very bad looking Gloucester drop goal attempt caromed off a Scarlets defender and limped over the goal posts to give the English side an improbable 28-27 victory.

“You had to see it to believe it,” Hodges says. “The ball somehow traveled up our guy’s body to get airborne. We were stunned.”

The rugby gods weren’t done with Llanelli however. The Scarlets were still hoping to qualify as one of the European competition’s best second-placed teams. Things looked good after their pool play ended with a 34-21 win over Colomiers. The only team who could thwart them were Pau, but, hey, the French club side would need to beat the mighty Pontypridd at home, scoring five tries in the process and what were the odds of that? Not long enough apparently. Pau ran their fifth and match-winning try into the corner in injury time and, for Lanelli, it was goodbye European Cup.

“We had that game on the radio and listened to our European season end,” Hodges recalls. “Personally, I was really looking forward to the challenge of Cup play-offs. It is simply the best professional competition in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Times are also tough in the Welsh/Scottish league where Llanelli sit near mid-table. There are just six rounds left in the competition and Hodges’ team will need to find some form if they are to qualify for European competition again next season. There is, however the Principality Cup, for the Scarlets to focus on. The Cup is Welsh rugby’s knock-out competition and thus open to all-comers,. But Llanelli have won the hardware 11 times in total, including the 2000 and 1998 competitions.

In the meantime, Hodges and teammates get a brief break from rugby on weekends when the 6 Nations internationals are contested. For the flanker from San Diego it is a chance to rest some of the niggling injuries that afflict every rugby professional. (It is somewhat in keeping with the tenor of his season that, after years of being relatively injury free, Hodges has had two minor surgeries this season and will need another whenever there’s a long enough break in the playing schedule.) Those international fixtures might also be an opportunity to mull over the season of what-might-have-been… we suggest a warm fire, a foot rest, and a tumbler of smooth whiskey to temper the memories of some tough breaks.

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