All the talk in the sports world these days is of the London Olympics, Euro 2012 and LeBron James finally winning an NBA title.
But for rugby fans anywhere in the world, all eyes and ears are on the Junior World Cup Trophy, being contested at Murray Rugby Park Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The event, held June 18-30, includes eight teams from around the world made up of players under the age of 20 from each country’s top rugby programs.
University of Delaware sophomore Glen Thommes is one of 27 members of Team USA. He’s the first Blue Hen to ever play in the event.
“I was extremely excited,” Thommes said during a phone interview between games. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s the dream of every champion in sports to play at a high level. I had to try out several times and so it was such a relief when I made it. It was a combination of excitement and relief because it was always something I dreamed of doing, ever since I started playing.”
Thommes’ rugby career began his sophomore year at Salesianum when he decided to give the spring sport a try after being cut by the baseball team as a freshman.
“My buddies talked me into playing rugby and so I figured I’d give it a shot,” said Thommes, who also played football and wrestled at Sallies. “And I fell in love with it.”
During the summers, Thommes played for the Delaware Destroyers and the EPRU All-Star rugby teams. It was there he honed his skills and became a natural fit for the Blue Hens’ top rugby team as a freshman, where he quickly learned he would have to take his game to an entirely different level to be successful.
“The size of the players and the pace of the game,” Thommes, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, noted of the difference between the levels. “If you make a mistake in college, people capitalize on it more than in high school. In college, you need to know what you are doing because it is more skill-based, as well as players having more strength and speed.”
On the field, the 6-foot-2-inch, 207-pound Thommes is a flanker, and said his main job is “to do a lot of rucking,” which happens when a player is tackled and both sides engage over top of him, forming a ruck while two players are fighting for possession. Thommes also has to try and get to the ball first when it is swung wide following a scrum. Delaware rugby coach Bjorn Haglid knew that Thommes was special as soon as he saw him play in high school.
“Glen is an exceptionally talented individual who was heavily recruited by other programs,” Haglid said. “[Even being as tall as he is], with his speed and endurance he can out run smaller players. His best ability is to understand what he needs to do and his overall focus on the game and his impact on it.”
Thommes’ skills helped the U.S. jump out to a 2-0 start early in the tournament with wins over Tonga and Chile. The U.S. then clinched first place in Pool A with a win over Russia Tuesday night, putting them in the championship game on June 30 against Japan. Regardless of the final outcome, Thommes said he will always cherish the chance he has had to be part of such a prestigious team.
“Making this team is a huge accomplishment for me personally,” Thommes said. “I have been working my tail off and putting in the extra hours of work to be the best player I can, and this achievement is a sign that all of my hard work is starting to pay off.”
Haglid said Thommes’ experience playing in the tournament will also benefit the Blue Hens.
“What he is learning over the summer and what he will bring back in experience will greatly help the team,” Haglid said. “We finished the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and with players like Glen, we will finish even better, if not at the top.”
Despite the accolades, Thommes is determined to do even more to improve his own game.
“Although I'm very happy with [making this team] I am not content or comfortable where I am,” Thommes explained. “This is a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and there will always be parts of my game that need work. Nobody ever reaches the best they can be, and to get complacent at this stage would be a waste of all the hard work I've put in so far.”
So far, that hard work has paid off, now on both sides of the country.
Reach Jon Buzby at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.