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Rugby takes center stage in Mattituck for friendly match against Worth School

For generations, the fields at Mattituck High School have been filled with soccer players. In more recent years, lacrosse has blossomed on the East End into a marquee sport.

The sight on Sunday may have seemed a bit unusual as players from across the East End played a different sport: rugby.

On a sweltering afternoon, high school players on a Section XI rugby team coached by Mike Jablonski, who doubles as the Mattituck boys cross-country coach in the fall, had the chance to compete against a team from across the pond. The Section XI team hosted a team from England in a friendly match that concluded their North American tour.

It was the second time they’ve hosted a team from England, Jablonski said. They previously played a friendly two years ago at Shoreham-Wading River High School.

The English team, Worth School, which is also high school-aged athletes, had previously played games in Canada before coming to Mattituck.

“The English are very well skilled and drilled,” Jablonski said. “It’s their natural sport.”

The Section XI team fought hard, he said, but ultimately lost by a score of 39-7.

“They put it to us pretty good,” he said.

Rugby remains a fringe sport on the scholastic level in the United States. A combined 2,593 students participated in rugby between boys and girls in 2017-18, according to an annual survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

In this case, players participate in a club format as opposed to on a school team. Jablonski said most of his players play school sports in addition to rugby. Some will even come to practices after their school sport practices.

Jablonski said the high school team has been around the past three years. He started U-12 and U-14 youth teams about six years ago and it’s progressed from there.

The high school rugby players play a spring season from March through the end of May with playoffs. They also play rugby sevens tournaments, which are matches with seven players as opposed to 15 in a typical match.

“It’s good to see kids from other countries and how they play and how they put it together,” Jablonski said.

While the Section XI team has a number of strong athletes, the English team was more technical in its play.

“Our guys are trying to understand the little nuances of the game,” he said. “For some guys that was their second game ever, while these [English] guys have probably played 100 games by the time they’re 16.”

After the game, the players from both teams got a chance to hang out and enjoy a cookout.

Jablonski was a former rugby player himself. He played as an adult on a team based in Montauk for about 12 years, he said.

He said he’s seen interest in the sport on the rise. A U-14 team based in Mount Sinai has about 25 players.

“We’re trying to get it out to the East End,” he said.

In the fall, the team will start up again with practices and playing some sevens. The team will typically practice at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.

The fall season goes until October and then it’s waiting for spring.

Jablonski said they’re open to any students coming down to practice to try out, even if they lack experience.

“You don’t need anything but a willingness to want to try it,” he said, noting most kids have a football or lacrosse background.

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Players from both teams pose together. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
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