USA vs. Jamaica Rugby

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As the USA rugby team prepares to make its first impression against Jamaica, two former students prepare to take the field for the national team Nov. 14 when UNF hosts the match at Hodges Stadium. 

UNF alumni, former UNF rugby players and brothers Apple and Taco Pope have joined the USA team alongside Bob Knoepfel as the three Jacksonville Axemen playing in the match against Jamaica. 

Matt Clark, another member of the Jacksonville Axemen, will serve as an alternate in the event of injury or sickness during the match. 

But it’s the Pope brothers who have the stats to give Jamaica a challenge.

“UNF introduced them to the rugby league and thus provided them with a chance to play for the Jacksonville Axemen and now the USA national team,” said Spinner Howland, the founder of the Jacksonville Axemen, about the Pope brothers. “They are both very tough guys, and they hold most of the Axemen defensive records. They are both very fit and very serious about representing the USA in this game.”

Taco Pope holds the Axemen record for most tackles in a season and the most tackles in a single game, with an average of 30, Howland said.

Taco is also considered one of the biggest hitters on the defensive line. Apple is similar to Taco on the defense, but Howland said he has a great mind for rugby and can control play developments throughout their games.

Because of these reasons and their aggressive approach and abilities to work together as a pair, the Pope brothers made the USA team, Howland said. 

In Rugby, this honor is equivalent to being chosen for an Olympic or World Cup team, and the brothers are especially excited because the USA team missed out on qualifying for the World Cup during the final round last year, Howland said.

The USA rugby team is determined to make it to the next World Cup with their new members, but there are still a couple things the team needs to work on to make it against the Jamaicans first, Howland said.

“The USA team is big and powerful, and they can use that in making the going very tough for the Jamaicans,” he said. “The Jamaicans have plenty of speed, so the USA team is going to have to stop and line breaks in the defense.”

Jamaica has eight players under pro contract with the United Kingdom who qualified for their national team, which will also make them tough to beat, Howland said. The USA team chose all of their players from domestic competitions, but they are doing everything they can to prepare for the upcoming match.

“At this level, you need to play the best game of your life every time, and there is no room for guys who are not prepared to do what it takes to be ready,” Howland said. “These are the best rugby league players in the USA, and they play every game at a very intense level. I am certain the Axemen guys are going to be some of the best prepared players on the team after the weeks of training they have been putting in.”

In addition to watching the Pope brothers and other USA players compete against Jamaica, fans will also be able to enjoy music from King Eddie and The Pili Pili Band, who will play an hour-long concert at the stadium before the match. 

The concert will begin at 2 p.m. before the 3 p.m. kick off.

Fans can also attend a “Welcome to Jacksonville Mixer” hosted by David Luckin from WJCT’s Electro Lounge Friday, Nov. 13, upstairs at Fionn MacCools in Jacksonville Beach. Starting at 6:30 p.m., this event will be attended by both teams and is open to the public to come and meet the players the night before the big game.