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A scrum of a good time
Savannah Shamrocks gear up for 2012 St. Patrick's Day rugby tournament
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Rugby in Daffin Park

No pads, no helmets and no apologies: Rugby is not a game for the fainthearted.

And yet it remains one of the most popular international pastimes of our modern history, spanning more than 200 years of trash-talking, mud-throwing and broken bones.

Proudly continuing this tradition, The Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club gathers more than 50 members each week to practice at Forsyth Park in preparation for the year's most anticipated event: The St. Patrick's Day Rugby Tournament.

On March 10-11, 75 teams from across the U.S. will gather at Daffin Park to swill beer and "scrum" with the best of them in celebration of Savannah's dearest holiday.

And while rugby is still largely considered a "gentleman's" game-in the loosest sense, of course-locals looking to get a head-start on the St. Patrick's Day festivities should expect anything but from this year's no-holds barred competition, in what could prove to be the most competitive bracket in the tournament's 30-year history.

John Schomburg, St. Patrick's Day Rugby Tournament director, for one, couldn't be more excited to host this year's event, but he understands more than anyone perhaps, that rugby is as much as business as it is a pastime.

The fact that it hasn't been commercialized or popularized in the same way that soccer has been abroad or football has been here, has forced Schomburg to organize the 80-team tournament with the same tactical expertise he once took with him to the field.

A Shamrock himself, these days, Schomburg spends more of his time behind the scenes than he does with the ball, but he credits a drastic change in strategy for the recent explosion in the tournament's local popularity.

"The tournament was suffering initially, and we needed someone to run it has a business instead of a fun tournament," says Schomburg. "We needed to be more stringent with the money we were spending and we needed to recruit more teams. And now that we've done both of those things, we sell out every year."

Selling out means that the Shamrocks can not only host a fantastic event, they can also donate most of their proceeds to Savannah charities that give back to the community such as the American Humane Society, America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Savannah.

The Shamrocks also give back to members within their own tight-knit community, assisting former players who've come across hard times, providing the strength of more than 50 burly shoulders to lean on when the going gets tough.

The Shamrocks are truly as generous off the field as they are intimidating on the field, but through it all, the objective has always remained community involvement through fierce rugby playing.

Over the course of the two-day event, the Shamrocks will vie for the title against teams from all over the country and even some parts of the world. Blending cultures and ultimately, remembering the origins from which Rugby originated, is what excites Schomburg the most about this year's St. Patrick's Day Tournament.

"It's just amazing all the people you get to meet. We have teams from Ireland, Turks and Caicos, teams from England-we even have military teams that compete each year."

St. Patrick's Day is certainly a celebration of "Irishness", but Schomburg stresses that the 2012 St. Patrick's Day Rugby Tournament is instead a celebration of diversity as well as an opportunity for athletes of all backgrounds to bond over their love of the sport.

"We'll have two days of rugby from dawn to dusk, which is a lot of rugby to be played, but it's a big social event for the players and for the city as well," Schomburg says.

For the sports fan in all of us, the 2012 St. Patrick's Day Rugby Tournament is a can't-miss event to kick-off this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities. Matches begin at 8 a.m. on March 10 at Daffin Park and will continue throughout the day. Play resumes on March 11 as both men's, women's, college, and senior teams gear up.

Admission is free for all spectators and refreshments, including beer, can be purchased courtesy of the American Humane Society.

If, for some reason, you can't make it to the actual tournament, don't miss the Shamrocks as they ride on their own float in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17.



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