Big hits bring big smiles

Spinnaker

During the Leeds Rhinos’ Rugby match vs. the Salford Reds Jan. 19, thousands of fans showed how much support UNF could give to a football on their campus.

The Leeds Rhinos pulled out a 12-10 win off a late game score after being down the entire game.

The Leeds Rhinos were missing at least three of their starters including their captain, Kevin Sinfield, said Greg Van Degrift, the Florida Collegiate Rugby Director.

This was the second consecutive game the team scheduled at UNF.

And while last year’s game brought out 3,000 more people, there were still plenty of storylines to draw fans’ attention.

This year was more about the game itself and less about the stars, Jaguar’s announcer Brian Sexton said.

“These guys are superstars where they come from,” said Tom McManus, broadcaster and former NFL player.  “They are extremely popular with fans and they live like rock-stars.  Just having these guys here is a big deal.”

McManus joined several members of the Jaguars organization including Tony Pashos, Adam Podlesh and Brian Sexton, who took the place of last year’s Hollywood crowd.

“We as a city enjoy the chance to show off our passion for all things sports, and our facilities at UNF,” Sexton said.

Another feature of the match was the newly formed relationship between UNF and Leeds Metropolitan University.

David Braham, the director of International Development at LMU, said the university is very excited about the relationship it has forged with UNF.

“The highlight of the week for our university was the signing of agreement with UNF for student xchange,”
Braham said.

Both universities are planning to exchange students, and eventually instructors, starting in the fall to help facilitate a unique learning experience,   Braham said.

Both teams also had a lot to say about their experience with UNF.

“UNF is a great place for us to train,” said Leeds Captain Kevin Sinfield. “Their facilities are as in good of condition as you would see anywhere in the world, and we are extremely delighted to be here.”

Although Salford has trained at UNF the past six years, this was the first match the team played at Hodges Stadium.

“Their facilities are fantastic, and this is the perfect place and opportunity for us to lay the foundations for the rest of the season,” Salford Captain Malcom Malka said.

The connections UNF has made with international rugby teams are largely due to the work of the Jacksonville Axemen, the local rugby team.

The Jacksonville Axemen practice and play at UNF and have been essential in building a strong rugby identity at UNF, Van Degrift said. UNF gives the  people of Jacksonville the chance to see all the collisions they are used to from American football, Sinfield said.

“Having the connection with the Axemen, and hosting games like these is only going to help them grow stronger and hopefully bump them up from a Division II to a Division I program,” Van Degrift said.  “This  is a great opportunity for UNF, and they should keep going for it.”

E-mail John Weidner at [email protected]