March 4, 2021

USA Rugby South team with Kenan wins regional championship

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By Joe Naiman on From Fallbrook & Bonsall Village New

The USA Rugby South team known as the Panthers and which includes 2009 Fallbrook High School graduate Cormac Kenan won the 2017 Rugby Americas North championship July 29 in Providence, Guyana, with a 23-19 victory over the team.

“Being handed the trophy was a pretty surreal feeling. It was nice,” Kenan said.

Kenan now lives in North Carolina and plays for the Southern Pines rugby club in Southern Pines, N.C. After his Fallbrook High School graduation, Kenan played football for Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. “Rugby is my love, it’s always been my love, but football was going to pay for school,” he said.

Kenan was with the Rocky Mountain College football team for two years before joining the . During his four years of military service he played rugby for the Army team while at Fort Hood in Texas.

Southern Pines is in USA Rugby’s South region, and Kenan was selected for one of the USA Rugby South squads which played in the St. Patrick’s Day Rugby Tournament in Savannah, Ga., which actually took place March 11-12 rather than on St. Patrick’s Day itself. The teams played eight shortened matches and the competition determined the members of the Panthers. “They used it as a tryout,” Kenan said.

Kenan was selected to the team. “I guess I could outperform my peers and made the starting roster,” he said.

The Panthers were the only team in the Rugby Americas North tournament which was not a national team; the Eagles are the actual United States national team. “We still play a lot of the smaller countries,” Kenan said.

The Panthers began North Zone play May 14 with a 39-5 victory over the in a match played on the Life University field in Marietta, Ga. Kenan started at wing against the Cayman Islands and took over at center when the starting center was injured. “I moved down and they brought in another wing,” Kenan said.

Kenan had a try and an assist on a try against the Cayman Islands. “I had a pretty good game,” he said.

The May 27 game against was played at Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla City. “It was probably the nicest field I’ve ever played on,” Kenan said.

Mexico prevailed by a 36-29 score, which would be the Panthers’ only loss of the tournament. “It was a really good game,” Kenan said.

Kenan, who was the Panthers’ center, was awarded player of the game honors by the Mexican team in the game against Mexico. “I think that kind of really established me,” he said.

Although Kenan did not score any tries against Mexico, he had several line breaks of more than 30 meters. “They mentioned that it was extremely difficult to stop me running with the ball,” he said.

After his selection as player of the game Kenan made a speech to both teams (a translator was used to provide the Spanish equivalent of his remarks). “My coaches made a pretty big deal out of it,” he said.

Bermuda was supposed to have played a June 17 match in Atlanta but was unable to make the trip and forfeited. That day Mexico and the Cayman Islands played each other in the Cayman Islands city of George Town, and the 39-17 Cayman Islands win gave both teams records of two wins and one loss, which matched the USA South record.

The standings points format which provides four points for a win (and two for a draw) also gives one bonus point if a team scores at least four tries and a bonus point if a team loses by seven points or fewer. The Panthers received two try bonus points and one losing bonus point, which gave USA South the North Zone championship and pitted the Panthers against South Zone champion Guyana.

“That was a really cool experience,” Kenan said of being in an international championship match.

Kenan started at wing against Guyana and also played center during the game.

“To finish it all off with winning the championship is a big thrill,” Kenan said. “It was a good experience.”

The Rugby Americas North championship gave USA Rugby South automatic entry into next year’s World Cup qualifying tournament, although only actual national teams will be able to participate in the 2019 World Cup. Kenan noted that a non-national team winning an international tournament indicates depth among United States rugby talent. “It shows a lot about how far USA Rugby has come,” he said.

Kenan played four years of rugby for the Fallbrook club. “I started playing rugby in Fallbrook and I learned everything I know about rugby in Fallbrook,” he said.

That didn’t preclude him from improving his skills during the Rugby Americas North tournament. “It was the highest level of rugby I’ve played,” Kenan said. “I was just able to better myself.”

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