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Sacramento's Pro Rugby Team Prepares For Inaugural Season

David Barpal / Courtesy

Sacramento scrum half Jope Motokana looking to pass the ball during the team's training session at Bonney field.

David Barpal / Courtesy

Sacramento's new professional rugby team will open its season this Saturday at Bonney Field. Sacramento is one of five founding teams of the new Pro Rugby league and features ten players from northern California.

The Sacramento Pro Rugby team trains in a warehouse off 5th Street in Sacramento. Training includes wind sprints and flipping tractor tires -- the reason why players' legs are like tree trunks. 

Player Ryan Koewler went to Jesuit High School, which is a rugby powerhouse in Sacramento. But, he says didn't fall for the sport until he went to Arizona State and tried out for the team on a whim.

"You've got big guys, big hitters and you've got fast, elusive guys," he says. "All of them carry the ball. All of them play offense. All of them play defense. It's very inclusive and very diverse."

He'll play on the wing for the 15-man team. He hopes to be admitted to medical school this fall.

Some of his teammates come from Ireland, Australia, Tonga, and New Zealand.

Mirco Burgamasco is from Italy. He's played in Europe for the past decade and says he has perhaps three more years of playing.

"For the moment, I don't think," he says. "I only think to play through my season, to play well, give support to teammates, play with my teammates because rugby's a collective sport."

His wife recently opened an organic, vegetarian fast-food restaurant west of Venice.

Some players will make as much as $40,000 this season. Others will be paid per diem. For many, this is the first time they will be paid to play the sport they love.

They are coached by Luke Gross. He's 6 feet 9 inches and for a time was the leader in CAPS, or games played, for the U.S. National Rugby Team.

He also played college basketball for Indiana State and Marshall University.

When asked which he was better at, rugby or basketball, he says, "Rugby by far. I still hold the single-season foul record at Marshall University."

The Sacramento team plans to hold a naming contest later this year. For now they will play as Sacramento Pro Rugby. The team opens its season at Bonney Field April 17.

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