Lakenheath airman lets off steam playing in British rugby league
ARNOLD — With bodies stained in mud and blood, adrenaline-fueled men clash on an open field surrounded by the famed Sherwood Forest.
This isn’t a fight between Robin Hood’s merry men and their foes, but a hard-hitting rugby match between the Paviors and Peterborough Rugby Clubs.
The lone American who braved the bruiser match and freezing temperatures was Staff Sgt. Alf Thompson, a combat aerospace grounds equipment craftsman for the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at RAF Lakenheath.
Towering at 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, Thompson’s frame fills Peterborough’s second-row position, where he battles opponents in scrums and lineout plays. This is the third Peterborough season for Thompson, who was selected to the Air Force Rugby team last month.
Missing the smash-mouth action of American football, Thompson began playing rugby while stationed in Germany six years ago. He eventually became a member of the U.S. Forces Europe Rugby team.
Since then, he has been improving his rugby skills by learning from teammates and competitors in England.
“When I came out of Germany, I wanted to start playing at a higher level and get more experience,” Thompson said of why he joined the Peterborough squad, currently five divisions below Premiership status.
“They may not have the size or the aggressiveness … American football does, but they have the skill. And that’s what wins games,” he said about the English blokes.
Other than experience, the 30-year-old from Iola, Wis., said he enjoys the camaraderie of the rugby lifestyle.
“I don’t know of any other sport where you can beat each other up and afterwards grab a beer with them. It’s time to celebrate, win or lose,” he said about the post-game parties.
For those interested in joining a rugby club, Thompson ensures them that — no matter their skill level — they can train up at numerous rugby clubs throughout the country.
“England, in particular, is probably the best place to play rugby. Even if you’re starting out, you can learn with a team and then you can go up from there,” he said.
He added, “If you like American football, then you’ll love rugby.”
After all, Thompson said, American football is derived from rugby.
Also, he said, the U.S. is the current Olympic champion in rugby. Of course, the last time the sport was played in the Olympics was back in 1924.
“They’d probably get destroyed today,” he said.
With Peterborough down at halftime to the Paviors, Thompson substituted in to change the momentum of the game. Using his size, he gave Peterborough an advantage in the scrum formations, and helped his team come back to beat the Paviors, 18-15.
When the match ended, so did the intensity of the players as they congratulated each other. One of the rugby players in the crowd then yelled, “Now, let’s get drunk!”