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Categories: COMMUNITY & NEWS, FEB/MARCH 2024, Sports

Macon Love on and off the rugby field

Story by Rachelle Wilson | Photos by Matt Odom

Buy us a drink, And we’ll sing you a song
Of the chances you missed, And the love that went wrong
If you can’t buy whiskey, Stand us a pint
And we’ll lug’er straight down, And we’ll sing half the night

In a crowd of sweaty men and women, this bar song exudes joyfully from those around me. I am surrounded by rugby players, fresh off the field. Blue and yellow jerseys intermingle as the former competitors sing side-by-side. Only an hour ago, I watched these humans go head to head—literally—in what is called a scrum: eight players from each team create a huddled mass of interlocked heads and struggle for control of the ball. Now, the two teams drink and sing, the game’s winners indistinguishable among the sea of smiling faces.

“It’s not that rugby is less competitive than other sports,” said rugby club president Travis Spencer. “Winning is incredibly important, but even more important is the joy of playing. It is a privilege to be a part of it. There’s an overwhelming undercurrent of respect for each other. Even though our teams fight on the field, as soon as the game is over, we are hanging out together.”

Macon’s rugby team—called Macon Love—was founded in 1999 by Andy Clark, Brad Muller, and Mark Toth. Since then, Macon Love has humbly scrummed, rucked, fended, and tackled on fields throughout the state and across the Southeast. 

“In our first year,” said co-founder Andy Clark, “we played against a well-established team in Atlanta, Old White, and we won! We beat them by three points. That was a big deal. It is great to see how Travis is leading the team now. Even though I’m not an active player anymore, when my wife and I opened Baldinos in Downtown Macon, we knew we wanted to support the team. Sponsoring the team is our way of staying involved. I’ve seen local interest in rugby ebb and flow over the years; I’m glad this team has made it this far. They are getting stronger and stronger, and that’s great to see.”

As they kick off celebrating their 25th year, Macon Love is starting the year stronger than ever. The team has recently doubled in size and is buzzing with excitement and renewed energy. The players range in age, size, and gender, making an ideal recruit difficult to identify at a glance.

“One of the cool things about rugby,” Travis said, “is that there is room on the field for people of all shapes and sizes. There’s such a vast difference in the positions that there are needed roles for very different body types and athletic abilities. But no matter the role, every player has to put in the work to be good.”

Some of that work happens on the practice field. Twice a week, the club comes together to run plays, sharpen skills, and build cohesion. The physicality of rugby can be intense; understanding how to engage with opponents on the field is important for playing as a unit and for personal safety. Known for its lack of padding or bodily protection, the vulnerability inherent in engaging body-to-body makes all players more mindful of impact. The physical demand necessitates a team mentality and sets the tone for rugby culture. 

“What every player needs to have is work ethic, teamwork, and respect,” Travis said. “It’s not a sport for individual superstars. I’ve been a part of teams that have one player who is an incredible athlete, and the team is worse for catering to that. One player can’t beat fifteen. Rugby relies on everybody on the field. That teamwork is incredibly important. Humility is crucial. You have to have trust, accountability, humility. All of those things that make you a good person will help make you a good rugby player.”

As local interest in rugby grows, Macon Love has found ways to engage the community beyond the field. Team sponsor JBA hosts after-parties (often a family-friendly event) and watch parties for international rugby games, like the recent Rugby World Cup. The club is also collaborating with Big Brothers Big Sisters to develop opportunities for youth engagement. 

“Our ultimate goal is to grow the club,” Travis said. “Then we can offer multiple teams, including a youth team. We want opportunities for everyone to play. I genuinely think that rugby can impact whole communities. Rugby is uniquely suited to create camaraderie and a culture of respect. Rugby is more than just a sport; it’s a community organization. In Middle Georgia, most people already love sports. If we can get more people to open their minds to consider trying a new sport, it can build a lot of community.” 

If the game’s afterparty is a glimpse into that community, new members and fans are sure to be drawn in. The jaunty crowd singing at JBA is ready to celebrate with any and all who join them. The players gave their all on the field and now celebrate each other and their love of the game itself. Macon’s rugby team, though ruthless in a scrum, expresses its ethos perfectly in their name: Macon Love.   

The team’s Christmas party included pizza and JBA drinks – most of the team prefers beer. Photo courtesy of Macon Love Rugby.


Macon Love post-game. Photo courtesy of Macon Love Rugby.


A bold catch during Macon Love’s matchup with the Gwinnett Rugby Lions. Photo courtesy of Macon Love Rugby.


Follow the Macon Love rugby team on Facebook.