I began my rugby career in 1980 in my first year at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I took my second year off and worked construction in Santa Barbara, and then transferred to UC-Santa Barbara. I played for the Santa Barbara Grunions 1981 and ’82 and then went to study in Strasbourg, France and played for Kronenbourg in 1983/84 and Stade Toulousaine (French National Champions – 1984/85), the first American to play pro rugby. I returned to UCSB as a player/coach from 1985-1987, we finished 5th in the country, and I was an All American.
I then played two years for North Shore, NZ (North Harbour Club Champions 1989); Valley RFC Hong Kong for 8 seasons, (Club Champions – 1990-1998) and two seasons with College Rovers, Durban, South Africa (Natal Champions – 1993). I eventually came back to the USA and finished my playing career while also coaching Santa Monica (National Champions 2005, 2006 (with Riaz Fredericks playing flyhalf!)
I played for Hong Kong 15’s (50 caps) and 7’s (over 200 appearances) from 1990-98, including the RWC 7’s in 1993 and 1997; won 2 Hong Kong Plates, was in 2 other HK Plate finals, and won 2 HK Bowls.
I also played for USA Maccabi Rugby at the Maccabi Games in Israel in 1993 and 1997. We won gold against South Africa Maccabi in 1997 and we also have a tight brotherhood.
I have had a rewarding coaching career: UCSB; French International School Hong Kong; Valley; Dartmouth College (Northeast Champions 1998/99); Santa Monica (1999-2009) (National Champions – 2005, 2006); Southern California Select (National Champions 2002, 2003); USA Maccabiah, Silver Medal at 2005 World Maccabi Games; ICEF Rugby (Inner City Education Foundation) 2003-present.
My most significant accomplishment is creating ICEF Rugby in South Central, Los Angeles in 2003. This was inspired by George Simpkin, who as Technical Director of the HKRU created programs all over Hong Kong and China. My Hong Kong teammate Rob Santos joined the ICEF support team in 2008 and has been influential in the program’s progress. ICEF have 7 schools, 2500 students, from TK-12th grade. In a neighborhood where close to 50% of students don’t finish high school, let alone go to university, over 90% of ICEF students graduate high school and over 80% attend university.
We introduce flag rugby in PE, then students can play afterschool rugby starting at age 9. Until they are 14 years of age 100 boys and girls are coached by ICEF high school players. Once they get to high school they represent ICEF View Park in the competitive Southern California High School 7’s league. At the end of each season for the past 16 years, ICEF teams have toured to China, England, France, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan, Fiji, South Africa, Tanzania, the Philippines, and Brazil. The International Program was the brain child of my Valley teammate, Tom Hall.
The first fully professional US woman rugby player, ICEF graduate Nia Toliver, just returned from playing in Japan for two years. Nia is now training full-time with the USA 7’s squad in San Diego and we are hoping she will make the Tokyo Olympics. There is currently an award-winning documentary about ICEF Rugby that played on Netflix in the U.S. and is now available on Amazon Prime called Red, White, Black & Blue Odyssey.
I loved playing for Hong Kong so much because there was a strong culture of individualism, while at the same time an incredible bond existed within the national team, and that extended to the entire diverse Hong Kong rugby community. George Simpkin had a big impact on the creation of that culture. It still exists to this day, and while people can immediately enjoy the HK 7’s, you have to play in Hong Kong to fully appreciate how fun and close it is.
As a national team we were David’s versus Goliaths, and we often upset top sides. That was especially sweet at the Hong Kong 7’s. It’s not important, but is worth the mention, that in the 90’s the HKRU operated a union bar in the middle of Wan Chai, and we often found ourselves there after games. I can tell you that the opposition teams liked it very much too. I know the union bar is gone, but not the late night revelries. On Sundays there was a crew that would work-out hard at either the French Intnl School where I was a PE teacher, or Chinese International where Rodney McIntosh and Carl Murray taught. We ran Jardine’s Lookout hard and often, and I had a routine of doing sets of stair sprints going up to the reservoir that was a killer and I challenge any current player to try. I can attest that hill sprints done as a team develop deep reservoirs of resilience. It worked for Santa Monica as well. Now I walk the same Santa Monica hill with my dog each morning. We don’t need to run hills anymore.
I went to see George and Pip Simpkin in September 2019 after George was diagnosed with cancer, and was joined in Matamata by my former Hong Kong teammates and lifelong pals Gary Cross, Ruffy Calder, Geoff Reid, and Rod McIntosh. George cared deeply for his players. He got to know them, he was observant. He picked up on mannerisms and would dissect them at relaxed times and it was hilarious. George loved life and relished in competition, didn’t shy away from it. The bigger the game the more fun and opportunity there was to be had. The guys that I ran out with in Hong Kong were the same; they relished a fight. It wasn’t the first rodeo for any of us; we’d played some quality rugby before and we weren’t afraid of the moment.
I’m generally not one to wade into nostalgia, but I was on tour with the ICEF students in Fiji in 2017. We were in Suva and the national stadium let out for a World Cup soccer qualifier as our bus drove by. I think the stadium winked at me, and I remembered winning the Plate there in 1997 in the middle of a hurricane; big national disaster. Serevi was making drop kicks from the corner while sections of corrugated roofing and rainbow umbrellas flew through the air. George once said to me in a quiet moment after a big win, “Moose, there is nothing like the camaraderie of men!” I think we can extend “men” to refer to any close-knit group that share a common goal and uncommon respect for each other to get the job done. Once you do that you are bound together for life.