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Arkansas Selects Thrive Under Radar

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Arkansas Selects Thrive Under Radar

Tali Nasoli looks for options in a game against Memphis.

One of the most unknown teams in the South Regional Cup Tournament at the RAC in Charlotte, NC has to be Arkansas.

You might ask, fairly, how can a state that has exactly one high school team form a select side? Glad you asked.




Click on images to enlarge.
Logan Jones in action for Little Rock
Ruben de Haas and Logan Jones for Little Rock

The Little Rock Junior Stormers are indeed the only high school team in the state. There are some high-schoolers training with clubs around the state, but right now it’s Little Rock and that’s it. Part of the impetus for the program came from former South African pro rugby player Pieter de Haas, who moved to Hot Springs, Ark., and whose son, Ruben, made the HS All American team.

The Little Rock team has played in and around the south, going 9-2 against opponents in Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. Their two losses came to Bixby HS.  

The select side is the best players from that Junior Stormers team, plus others from Hot Springs and Northwest Arkansas.

“We brought in players we knew about and trusted,” said Dan Jones, who helps coach the team. “We know we’re flying under the radar, but we’re trying to build something. We’ve got old players who now have their sons playing rugby, and we’ve got some talented kids.”

None more so than young De Haas, who is an aggressive and snappy scrumhalf who is also a talented kicker. 

“Ruben's kicking game is the best we have seen, period,” said Jones.

Logan Jones is a fast, 6-0, 220-pound flanker, and the founder of the team. Steven Benson partners with him in the back row. The Arkansas team boast some talent in the right five - they pride themselves on a strong scrum, led by Josh Zumouda at prop. Meanwhile the Nasilai brothers - Fakaosi and Sione - provide all sorts of power in the midfield.

“We have a strong scrum and a really strong midfield - big, imposing, fast,” said Jones. “We like to think of ourselves as giant killers, and I thin the team takes on the character of the state. People in Arkansas are extremely gritty, scrappy, and that’s the way the team plays.”

All of the players mentioned in this article are underclassmen, and so the program has another year to build. With the Arkansas State University program flourishing, and the University of Arkansas having such a strong season, you might well see more high school rugby spring up in The Natural State. Right now the pool of players might be small, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Arkansas plays in the South RCT with Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and RBMA out of Florida.