Former Mesa State ambassador returns to valley with Barbarians

Matt Lancaster of the Denver Barbarians rugby club is credited for helping to enhance the sport at Mesa State during his time as a student.

Members of the Brigham Young University, blue stripes and Denver Barbarians, green stripes, squared off Saturday in a cold and wet rugby match at Canyon View Park.

Matt Lancaster will do anything to play rugby.

Lancaster is a member of the Denver Barbarians Rugby Club, which Saturday took on Brigham Young University at Canyon View Park.

Although the 32-year-old is in the twilight of his rugby career, he first proved his desire for the sport while attending Mesa State College.

When Lancaster played rugby at Mesa from 1995-2000, the sport was still in its infancy. More than a member of the team, Lancaster helped the club progress any way he could. That included joining the student council to help allocate money for club sports.

“Playing rugby for Mesa was an exciting time of my life,” Lancaster said. “We were doing it for no other reason than we liked the competition and camaraderie.”

Lancaster started playing rugby at Regis High School in Denver, but learned a lot more about the sport when he was forced into the role of player/coach with the Mavericks.

“The coach we had got a contract with the University of Oregon football program, and nobody stepped into the position,” Lancaster said. “So I started taking classes, and learned a ton. I learned the rules inside and out, and kind of learned by fire, and that really helped me develop as a person.”

After graduating from Mesa State with a degree in history, Lancaster looked to make his own history. Lancaster knew he wanted to go where the best rugby was, which led him to Waikato, New Zealand. Once there, Lancaster joined a club team, the Hamilton Old Boys.

“I knew I was going to New Zealand because that’s where the best rugby players were,” Lancaster said. “Playing at the level was a wonderful experience, the skill level was unbelievable.”

Lancaster found himself at the age of 23 living in a foreign country playing his favorite sport. Although rugby took up most of his time, he had to also work odd jobs to make money.

“I did a bunch of crazy labor jobs,” Lancaster said. “I was picking kiwis, and they grow on a vine so they are hard to get to and it ended up I was allergic to them. So I did construction, did landscaping, just a bunch of odd jobs.”

When Lancaster returned stateside, he had gained a wealth of rugby knowledge and was ready to continue playing. After a short stint with the Denver Highlanders, Lancaster joined the rugby Super League team, the Denver Barbarians.

Since 2003, Lancaster has been a stalwart of the Barbos, traveling the country to play against some of the best rugby teams from New York to San Francisco.

“Traveling with the team has been great,” Lancaster said. “We play teams like Golden Gate, the Chicago Lions, New York Athletic Club, and those are some best rugby players in the country.”

Since Lancaster began playing the sport, rugby has grown by leaps and bounds, especially in Colorado. Lancaster said because many Denver high schools have rugby teams, players are getting exposed to it at a younger age.

“It used to be common that a guy would start playing rugby at 23 or 24,” Lancaster said. “Now with the young kids that are coming up, it’s changing the level of competition. It’s getting tougher, but I love it.”


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