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March 1999

Scrummage: Munich's winning rugby team vs. the DRV

An article about Munich's rubgy team.

Competing in the first Bundesliga (Federal League) qualification play-offs later this month will be a bittersweet experience for the München Rugby Football Club (MRFC). The team, undefeated since 1997, expected to play in the premier division last season, but instead still finds itself packing down with the second stringers of the first Bundesliga. In the 1997/98 season, MRFC was the clear point winner of the second division. Under normal circumstances, the top two teams are promoted and this would have been the first time Munich had ascended to the first Bundesliga. With Guinness, a major sponsor, waiting to sign and a talented, combative team, Munich seemed poised to make club history and reap the rewards of its hard-earned on-field success. Two weeks before the start of competition last August, however, the Deutsche Rugby Verband (DRV) informed the club that only a second Bundesliga slot was available. Instead, RK Heusenstamm, the fourth-placed team in the second Bundesliga was promoted alongside second-placed ASV Köln. “It is unfortunate,” said Carsten Segert, a spokesman for the DRV. "But Munich simply did not meet the requirements for a first Bundesliga team. It was decided not to issue them a license." The DRV based its decision on Munich’s lack of a registered trainer and because it had undertaken little promotion of rugby among youth. Torsten Fiedler, a former German representative rugby player, is Munich’s official trainer. In March last year, he applied for a training license but neglected to send a passport photo with his application. The DRV did not inform the MRFC of the oversight until the club received a letter denying the team’s promotion. “No passport photo, no promotion, was the DRV’s decision. It seems unduly harsh given the nature of the infringement,” said Mike Warren, a spokesman for the club. “It was a shot out of the blue. We had paid our first Bundesliga license, had it accepted, received our match fixture, and were looking forward to a successful, competitive season when this came,” said Warren, an Australian who played with the MRFC for more than ten years. “It reeked like an ‘old boys’ decision to keep the southern upstarts out.” Munich tried to appeal, but with only two weeks left before the start of the season, the club was left with no real alternative but to swallow its pride and return to the second division. MRFC answered the charges against it in the only way they could – on the field. The team was undefeated in 1998/99 and again won the second-division title, but promotion will not be automatic this time, either. “Torsten has now obtained his license, and in regard to youth promotion – it’s difficult in a soccer-obsessed region,” said Mike Warren. “We have a record as comprehensive as many first-division teams and we have now documented it. We don’t believe it will be an issue. All we have to do now is prove ourselves in the play-offs.” Under the restructured rugby competition, the top-three second Bundesliga teams and bottom-three first Bundesliga teams playoff to determine the three open slots in the 1999/2000 season. “No one is guaranteed a top slot, and it will be a struggle, but based on our form we have a strong chance,” said Rory Donoghue, team half-back. “The DRV’s decision not to promote us had a demoralizing effect in September, but we’ve hit our stride and the DRV’s decision will, ironically, be a strong motivating factor in the play-offs. For us it is a question of honor. We finally want to take our place amongst the best clubs in the first Bundesliga.” Donoghue said the team is particularly looking forward to playing RK Heusenstamm. “I wouldn’t say it was a grudge match, but we do have a point to prove.” Though a lesser known sport, rugby has a long tradition in Germany. Rugby Union, the more genteel and nominally amateur form of the game, arrived in Germany shortly after the sport was codified in England in the 1860s. Rugby has always struggled for a foothold in Bavaria – though the Bayern München rugby team did win the German Championship in 1925. It was not until 1977 that a rugby team again represented Munich, and the club, which also has a second team playing in the Bayernliga is still only one of a handful of local clubs which include Fürstenfeldbruck, Nürnberg and Neu-Ulm. Munich Rugby Football Club will have to win six of the ten play-off games to finally take its place in the first Bundesliga.

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