by WYNNE LOVE | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography 

Rugby is a team game played with an oval ball that may be kicked, carried, and passed from hand to hand. It is said that the game has been around since 1823 when William Webb-Ellis, of Rugby School, picked up a ball while running with it at an English school football game to bring attention to his fine disregard for the rules of football. The sport took shape around many universities and the first set of written rules for “rugby union” were drawn up in 1845. Today, the sport lives on and is thriving in the local communities. San Diego Youth Rugby, also known as the Mustangs, has been developing rugby players from kindergarten through high school since 2004. The “think on your feet” program they have in place allows athletes to build self-confidence and camaraderie, work as a team, and boost their athleticism. Club President, Guy Hagen, and Treasurer, David Pool shared with us how the Mustangs have created a club of excellence in coaching, playing and developing rugby players. The athletes are tackling the sport well and gaining strength, speed and agility all while have a great time on the fields.






92130: What is the history behind San Diego Youth Rugby?

The San Diego Youth Rugby Club (SDYR) was founded in 2004. The club started off small with only a handful of players, but quickly grew to multiple age grades. The club moved to a “Board of Directors” format and the first board was elected in 2008. Since then, we have continued our efforts in getting as many kids in this area to play rugby as possible.

92130: Briefly describe the game of rugby? How is it played and is it geared for a certain gender/age group?

Youth rugby is a process of developing rugby players from kindergarten through high school players. It involves a pathway of development from small seven a side non-contact “touch” rugby for young players, through to full 15 a side contact rugby for high school level teams. Youth rugby is for both boys and girls. San Diego Youth Rugby Club runs a comprehensive program for all ages and all levels of play. Running, kicking, passing, and teamwork are a few of the things athletes will experience in this fast growing sport. It requires lots of energy and it teaches children to think on their feet by playing a game that does not stop for time outs or breaks in play. Youth rugby also builds strong self confidence and camaraderie by participating in a sport where sportsmanship is not just a word but is embraced and expected by the sport worldwide.

There are specific rules and laws in place that stress methods of safe play and this keeps the game in order and minimizes potential injuries. Rugby places importance on sportsmanship and safety as well as winning. Here are some factors that make rugby different than American football:

  • Possession: Rugby is a game of possession, not yardage. Therefore coaching emphasizes passing the ball before being tackled as well as other skills aimed at keeping the ball in your team’s possession. Players do not focus on smashing ahead trying to gain a few more yards. Good rugby has the ball flowing from player to player in a forward fashion to score.
  • No Blocking: The fact that there is no blocking in rugby reduces the amount of contact on the field. Space is created by passing the ball and using misdirection. Nearly all collisions between players are anticipated by both players, and therefore better prepared for by both parties.
  • Tackling: Tacklers must wrap their arms when tackling. No tackling is allowed above the shoulders – also known as high tackling, which is strictly forbidden and quickly penalized if it occurs. This not only makes for safer play but for surer tackling. Coaches teach not only how to tackle but how to be tackled.
  • The rugby community is a unique group of individuals who dare to try something different … a legendary game that mixes strength, speed and agility. A game that will forever welcome athletes of any and every size and shape. Successful rugby does require fitness, but first and foremost it requires that special person who’s ready, willing and able to give it a go.


92130: Describe the basics of the typical season.

SDYR rugby has six age groups U8, U10, U12, U14, U16, U19 and also runs the Torrey Pines Varsity and JV teams who compete in the high school competition. The season starts with our pre-season program the week after Thanksgiving for all age groups up to U14 and high school Varsity and JV. The pre-season program helps refresh the players back into rugby as well as developing the necessary skills for both returning and new players. The high school season starts its games in early December and runs through to mid-February. The U19 and U16 teams start immediately after the High School season and continue to early May. The U14, U12, U10 and U8 teams start playing the first week in January and continue to mid-March. During the season, it is typical for two multi-team tournaments to be held that could be for the San Diego region teams or all of Southern California teams, including LA-based teams.


92130: Where are SD Youth Rugby games played and who do they play?

When SDYR hosts games they are played at Carmel Del Mar Park or Carmel Valley Middle School. For away games, the host club provides the fields. We play against the following teams:

Coastal Dragons (Encinitas), North County Gurkhas (Escondido), Carlsbad Thunder, Oceanside Hurricanes, Poway Spartans, San Clemente Gators, Temecula Mountain Lions, OMBAC-Wallabies, San Diego Young Aztecs, Fallbrook Indians, Mira Mesa Warriors and the La Jolla Eagles.

92130: How are teams formed so they are sure to be competitive with one another?

The teams are formed on informal geographical boundaries. New clubs are formed every year as demand grows. All San Diego clubs seem to be attracting quality athletes into the game.

92130: Guy, what is your role as president and how did you get involved with the league?

My role as President is to work with the Board of Directors and administer the club. We all have tasks ranging from registering kids with the league, organizing fields, to developing the game in our community. I got involved eight years ago when my daughter brought home a flyer in her “Wednesday Folder” at Sage Canyon. The club needed volunteers, and I jumped at the chance to get involved.

92130: What is your number one goal as president of the league?

To be the best youth rugby club in the nation. We have a solid administrative infrastructure, the best coaching staff of any youth team I have seen in North America, and fantastic talent in the kids. All we need is our own fields and sponsorships.

92130: What is the most rewarding thing about being president of the league?  The most challenging?

The most rewarding thing about being president of the club (and that of a coach) is when the kids finish a game and they won’t stop talking about how much fun they had. I get emails from parents of our new players all the time telling me that their kids are having an absolute blast playing rugby. It is also rewarding when respected national-level administrators acknowledge our achievements. For instance, the Mustangs hosted a coaching clinic this past summer and Steve Gray, the USA Rugby Coaching Instructor (and former USA National Team player, and two-time National Champion coach) stated “A final note is that I was very impressed with the Mustang Club. You are doing all the right things; great model for youth clubs all over the country.”

The most challenging part is getting enough volunteers to help. We have lots of ideas we want to implement, but we have to delay some ideas because we don’t have enough manpower to do everything at once. The volunteers we have do an incredible job, but more help is always needed.

92130: David, what has been the most exciting thing about being involved with the club? How long have you been involved?

The expansion of the number of certified coaches the club now has which provide enormous depth in coaching skill. I got involved three years ago when my oldest son started playing at age five.

92130: If you could grant the club one wish, what would that be?

To own our own rugby field. It really is expensive and difficult to obtain access to grounds

92130: Your coaching staff is a coveted aspect of the club. Tell us about the coaching credentials within the club and why they are so impressive.

Coaches play a pivotal role for the Mustangs. All of our head coaches and the majority of assistant coaches are USA Level 200 (formally Level 1) Certified. As part of the certification process, coaches attend a 2-day course designed and conducted by USA Rugby to prepare a coach to successfully coach youth age grades (U8-U19). The course has an emphasis on safety, and encompasses the ideas taught by the Positive Coaching Alliance (PAC). Additionally, coaches are required to take the NHFS Concussion and the USOC SafeSport courses. From its inception, SDYR has focused on attracting coaches with both rugby playing experience as well as the ability to communicate well with our young players.

The coaching staff is led by Bill “Chief” Leversee. Chief started his rugby career at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he was a two-time All-American. After graduation, he continued playing rugby in San Diego for OMBAC and helped them win five National Championships. Bill also represented the US National team (Eagles) and amassed 13 caps playing in too many countries to list. After competing in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, Bill spent the next three years playing rugby overseas in South Africa and Italy.ZG-2598

Our philosophy is to provide continuing skill development for our coaches as this will provide in the best instruction for our players. An example of this occurred last year when we co-hosted a coaching course with US Rugby that was available to all San Diego clubs. Of the 26 attendees, 18 were coaches with SDYR. The club has over 25 USA rugby certified coaches.

92130: What sets San Diego Youth Rugby apart from other recreational rugby clubs? 

A real commitment to coaching development, combined with highly supportive parents allows us the ability to set our players up for long-term development. We have contacts at dozens of colleges and universities across the country. We currently have alumni playing at Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Purdue, St. John’s, Villanova, Portland, USD, San Diego State, Cal Poly SLO, UCSB, Santa Barbara Rugby Academy, Cal State Sonoma, Santa Clara, Cal Maritime, Saint Mary’s and Cal-Berkeley.

92130: Tell us about the PCA Philosophy that is instilled through all players.

As a Club we have adopted the PCA philosophy which has two main components that the Mustangs will employ at all age grades – “ROOTS” and the “ELM tree”. Our coaches will teach the players to honor the game by showing respect to:

  • Rules
  • Opponents
  • Officials
  • Teammates
  • Self

Additionally, the coaches will emphasize the “ELM Tree”. This idea stresses the importance of:

  • Effort
  • Learning
  • Mistakes are okay

These concepts are critical in developing our young athletes. We will do our best to show our players that these ideas are not only important on the rugby field, but in life, as they relate to the family, the classroom and life. We have a common coaching philosophy that is aimed at playing fast, highly skilled and entertaining rugby. To achieve this standard of play, we aim for our players to be at an increasing high level of fitness as they progress through the age grades.

92130: Since the organization is not for profit, how do you go about receiving necessary funds to keep the league running?

The league is run by Southern California Youth Rugby which is a territorial organization, part of USA Rugby. SDYR survives from player fees. The Mustangs also survive primarily on the registration fees paid by players. All of the fees are invested back into our coaches and players along with our annual running costs.

ZG-260292130: Do you have any sponsors?  If so, who are they and how do they assist in the club?

Sponsorship is just getting started as rugby develops more of a profile in San Diego and the rest of the US, from the exposure as an Olympic sport. Our current sponsors are Stingaree restaurant, Susie Talman Photography, and the La Jolla Shark Bait Classic, who donates the proceeds from their event to SDYR to assist underprivileged players in their registration costs.

92130: Tell us about the volunteers who allow for the club to be so successful. 

Our volunteers include both parents and non-parents and are really the heart of the club. Without them we have no coaches or administrative staff to make the season function for our 170 players.

92130: If someone were to want to become involved as a volunteer with the club, how would they go about doing so?

Contact Club President, Guy Hagen at

92130: Have you had any of your players go on to play in college and/or on a professional level?  If so, explain.

As rugby has expanded more colleges have rugby programs. The club plays an active role in helping players to get access to colleges. Last year we had 12 players who had “graduated” out of the Mustangs U19 team and all 12 got accepted into college rugby programs. This assistance is possible because of the connections with college coaches that the Mustangs coaches have built up over years.

92130: Do the local high schools have rugby programs in place? Do you see it becoming a CIF sport in the near future?

Yes – rugby is becoming more popular at high schools. There are approximately 27 high school teams that are a mixture of “single school” teams and multi-school teams like Torrey Pines. Rugby will get CIF status when sufficient “single school” teams are playing. We expect this to occur in a three to four year time frame.

92130: Are you hosting any clinics in the coming months or in to the summer?  If so, please provide details.

We just hosted a Line Umpire Referee course and we expect to host another coaches clinic in May. In addition, we are planning to hold summer camps this year which will be a great way to further develop our players. All courses will be advertised on our website. ′