Property management major Tran Dai Phu is the president of UAA’s new rugby club. The Singapore native came to Alaska on a backpacking trip before deciding to stay here to continue his education at UAA. As an internationally certified referee for rugby, he joined the community in Alaska and became the vice-president of the Alaska Rugby Union.
Dai Phu is highly active in the Alaska and international rugby scene. He knows of the community’s interest in the sport as the Alaska Rugby Union already features three female, four male and five youth teams.
Starting a rugby club at the main educational institution in the local area seemed like the next logical step for him. The Alaska rugby community became his home away from home.
“It is a sport that a small Asian guy like me can play against anyone,” Dai Phu said. “I can tackle a guy that is triple my size. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how good you are. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are – you can play rugby. All you need to do is run and pass the ball. There is no proper proportion for it.”
Soon after his arrival in Alaska, Dai Phu met Justin Green, the founder of Alaska’s first and only rugby facility. Green built the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds in his personal backyard right on Finland St. to introduce Alaska to the world of rugby.
“I wanted to put Alaska on the map because if you looked at the whole rugby map, there was a hole where Alaska was. My plan was to fill that in and that’s what we did by building the field. To grow as a rugby community in Alaska, we had to build a field and a clubhouse that would support a future of rugby here,” Green said. “We just want to bring teams from all around the world up to Alaska, so they get a chance to experience rugby here and at the same time what Alaska has to offer.”
Dai Phu started reffing during various tournaments hosted at the facility. It inspired him to start the rugby club at UAA. Through the club, he seeks to encourage others to get involved with the rugby community in Alaska.
Dai Phu and business major Kenny Melin represented the Seawolf Rugby club during the Midnight Sun 7s Rugby tournament on Sept. 9 at the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds. The tournament featured the Semiahmoo Old Boys RFC, a team of former Canadian national team players, and Alaska Old Oosik Ruby.
Dai Phu’s involvement with both organizations allows a close cooperation between the two institutions and connects the club to national and international tournaments hosted at the facility. Melin hopes to further increase his involvement with the Alaskan rugby community through Seawolf Ruby.
“Tran [Dai Phu] decided to start a rugby club and he asked me to join, so I did. This last summer was my first full season playing rugby in Alaska. I played for the Turnagain Bore Tides and it was awesome,” Melin said.
Playing on Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds is a unique experience for players.
“We played up here in the last tournament. It was so much fun, I had never played up here on this field. I played around Anchorage before, but it was really special playing up here,” Melin said.
Dai Phu is trying to establish rugby as a year-round sport in Alaska. During the winter, players usually play touch rugby, a game in which players don’t tackle each other but instead touch their opponents with their hands. That way they avoid injuries due to most facilities’ unsuitable floor surfaces for playing rugby.
Dai Phu and the Alaska Rugby Union are discussing the possibility of integrating a rugby field in the Sullivan Arena, which could be set up during weekends around the Seawolf hockey team’s schedule. The field would provide level-four-certified turf for rugby games, which replicates grass of high quality to prevent injuries. That way players, including the Seawolf Rugby club, would have the opportunity to play during the long winter months. Another place for possible games would be The Dome after its reinstatement this winter.
“I’m really excited for it to be all year around. Up here, you can’t really play outside during the winter, but it will probably expand the game a lot more and also be a nice experience to play all year round and get more experience,” Melin said.
The Seawolf Rugby club seeks to promote rugby for women and men, especially with the prospect of women’s rugby becoming an official NCAA sport. This could put rugby on the radar to be added as an official NCAA sport to the UAA Athletics Department, which the club and the Alaska Rugby Union aims for.
Seawolf Rugby will meet every Monday and Thursday at the Delaney Park Strip at 7 p.m. and transfer to the Wells Fargo Sports Complex at UAA’s main campus for touch rugby when winter arrives. They will play at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex Thursdays at 5 p.m. For questions regarding the club, contact Kenny Melin at [email protected]