Summit Renegades boys rugby to play first-ever home game at Summit High, Saturday, 4 p.m. | SummitDaily.com

Summit Renegades boys rugby to play first-ever home game at Summit High, Saturday, 4 p.m.

For the first time in the program's three year history, the Summit Renegades rugby club will host a match at Summit High School this Saturday.

Though the rugby union club is not an official scholastic program through Summit High School, the Renegades are entirely comprised of Summit High students. The 4 p.m. home opener for the Renegades (0-2) comes after a losses earlier this month to Aspen and Pikes Peak.

It'll also be the home debut as head coach for Breckenridge resident and native Englander Guy Hudson, a lifelong rugby fan, player and coach who served as an assistant coach with the team through their first two seasons after moving to Breckenridge in 2010.

Though the Renegades dropped their first two games of the campaign, Hudson believes his young team has shown resolve and a thirst to improve and stick with the sport despite the fact that nine players from last year's squad are no longer with the team — whether that be due to graduation, injuries or choosing to concentrate on other sports.

“The great thing about rugby is it really is about both the personal battles that you have to have with yourself and just getting fit enough and strong enough to play the game.”Guy HudsonSummit Renegades head coach

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This season, 19 student-athletes initially signed up, and 17 are currently on the roster, though Hudson said it's likely the Renegades will have 13 to 14 players for Saturday's game.

"We've got a squad essentially of 17 players now," Hudson said, "so we've managed to recruit a heck of a lot of new players and the great thing is they came through the hard preseason training. They all learned so much so quickly, came together and have played some fairly decent rugby."

Rugby union requires 15 players to be on the pitch for a team, and considering the club's low numbers, the team has been strained for substitutes. They will be again on Saturday, when Hudson said the club, due to injuries, will likely only have 13 to 14 players available to play. As such, the Renegades may have to borrow player(s) from the opposition.

A young club with a first-year coach and many new players, these are the kinds of tribulations the Renegades are fighting through this season. That said, Hudson's goal this year for the program is to foster a love for the sport in younger players who he hopes will stick around and help recruit new players for future seasons.

And between now and then, the Renegades focus is to play a cat-quick style of rugby that counters well against their typically larger, more-experienced and deeper opponents.

"If we can keep these guys infused," Hudson said, "we can grow the squad. We can take the pressure off the guys.

"The basics have to be that we have to get in fitness enough," Hudson added, "to be tough enough to play the game. … Being mountie kids, they are generally smaller than the kids they come up against, so we work hard on fitness. We've done that deliberately, as the idea is to play as fast a paced game as we can. To minimize, to a degree, the sheer physical battle. If you're smaller than the guy you're playing against, there is only so much physicality you can use to match someone bigger than you."

2017 Rugby Colorado All-State selection Alfonzo Vasquez returned this season as a junior and second-year captain to lead the 2017-18 incarnation of the Renegades squad after last year's team, in their second year, ended the regular season ranked No. 4 in the Division II North with a 4-2 record. It was a mark that qualified them for the state playoffs. for the first time.

Last year was a major step forward for not only the Renegades, but also for a boys high school-aged program here in Summit County, as the Renegades are the third team to start up in the past 20 years.

The 2017 Renegades squad also had small numbers. But the difference in rugby union — also known as rugby 15s — between an 18-man team like last year and this year's squad, is huge. Two injuries or absences on an 18-man squad means there is room for one substitute and no need to borrow a player from the opposition. But two injuries or absences on a 15- or 16-man squad? That's a whole different story.

Still, even if his group is shorthanded, Hudson is proud of how quickly his team has taken to his beloved sport.

"We've tried to instill in them very strong core skills so they know how to play basic rugby," Hudson said, "and as they become more confident in that, with those basic skills behind you, their confidence and creativity can come out.

"And in the last two games," the coach continued, "although it's been against much bigger teams, they haven't exactly lost those basic rugby situation skills, the fundamental parts of rugby. The guys competed well, but when it comes down to certain things, like being a man down, when the other team's got 10 reserves, and they are pushing 50 percent of their body weight on you, there is only so much you can do with that."

Though this Summit Renegades squad is comprised of several players who never stepped foot on a game pitch until the season opener versus Aspen, they are learning from a rugby lifer in Hudson.

Hudson took the head coaching reins this year after the Renegades coach in their first two seasons, Peter Clarke, took a sabbatical for this season to travel around the world with his family.

Though Hudson says there is a good likelihood Clarke returns for next season, this is his team to lead this year. And what the Renegades have in him is a lifelong rugby player who learned to love the game thanks to his father John Hudson, a Royal Navy physical training officer who coached Guy in rugby and track and field.

"Rugby was all I knew to start with, really," Hudson recalled of his childhood.

He started playing as a 3-year-old and, based out of his home county of Devon, Hudson played on a myriad of clubs, including the Liskeard Looe Rugby Union Club — his very first club as a child.

Growing up a rugby youth in England was very different than what his athletes have here in Summit County. Yes, Colorado is a relative hotbed here in the U.S. for rugby, particularly down on the Front Range. But student-athletes here, Hudson realizes, aren't lucky enough to go to schools where rugby is a big part of the curriculum, like he was.

Hudson and his family moved to Breckenridge in 2010, where he and his wife currently own and operate the O2 Lounge Oxygen Bar in Breckenridge. Thousands of miles from their home country, Hudson realizes his athletes may not have the same rugby experience he grew up with.

Still, he knows if they learn to love the game, master its basics and focus on being the most fit players in the state, possibilities are out there. Both for the team, like last season, and for individuals, like Vasquez, who Hudson said has the opportunity in the future to go on tour in Ireland with a team.

"The great thing about rugby is," Hudson said, "it really is about both the personal battles that you have to have with yourself and just getting fit enough and strong enough to play the game — to face-down a bigger guy who's running at you, that you have to tackle. The game as a whole, there are so many different physical requirements in the game. It takes commitment, courage, talent and it develops people, as sports people and as human beings as well."