Two Barbarians make important contributions for Wisconsin Selects at Thunderbird Cup.

On June 1st, seven local area union (LAU) teams converged on the Chicago Blaze Rugby Club’s complex in Lemont Illinois for the Midwest Rugby Union’s “Thunderbird Cup”. The intent of the event was to allow a stage for players to display their talent and to play for some hardware.

Players that showed that they could play at the next level would be picked to join the Midwest Thunderbirds team, which regularly schedules an exhibition match every six months with the winner of the Midwest Premier Division (Division 1).

Wisconsin was the clear favorite going into the weekend. They had a long list of advantages stacked in their favor, including two games against Division 1 opponents earlier that spring in the Chicago Lions and the Chicago Griffins. 

Wisconsin had also won the same tournament when it was hosted at the Wisconsin Rugby Sports Complex in Cottage Grove, WI in two decisive games in 2023.

The tournament was broken into two divisions: a plate bracket, and a cup bracket. In terms of standings, the Cup team pool was for the four highest ranked teams from the tournament the year following, and the Plate team pool was for any other teams that wanted to enter the tournament. Next year, the team that won the Plate will be promoted to the Cup bracket, where the loser of the Cup bracket would be relegated to the Plate bracket.

Due to a late cancellation from Ohio’s Rugby Union, the plate bracket was left with Minnesota Rugby Union, Indiana Rugby Union, and Chicago Area Union (CARFU). These three teams played two games each against one another on Saturday to decide the championship match, and after three total games with wet, sloppy conditions, Indiana and Minnesota were the two teams picked to play for the Plate the following day.

Wisconsin was one of four teams playing for the Cup during the tournament. The other teams were Allegheny Rugby Union, Iowa Rugby Union, and Michigan Rugby Union. The games for the Cup started later, so the conditions were slightly better, but it was still wet and muddy for both games. Michigan won a scrappy, well contested game against Iowa early in the afternoon, and Wisconsin was scheduled to play Allegheny at 5PM.

The Milwaukee Barbarians typically send about a half dozen players every year prior to 2024, but due to burnout from a competitive and rugby packed spring there wasn’t as much interest this year as years prior.

The Barbarians are proud to have sent two players for the tournament this year despite the massive amount of rugby played: back Kevin Schmidt, and forward Tom Fossell.

Both players were on the roster for Saturday’s match against Allegheny, with Schmidt being used as a utility forward/back sub, and Fossell starting at lock.

The poor conditions relented at the beginning of the game, and the clouds let up long enough for the game to be played unaccosted by rain. Wisconsin’s lineup consisted of nine Wisconsin Rugby Club players, three Green Bay Rugby Club players (including Jared Skinkis was the team’s captain), one Lindenwood College player, one Milwaukee Rugby Club (MRFC) player, and the aforementioned Fossell. 

The game itself was sloppy, with Wisconsin taking some time to get a solid foothold in the competition. It took 15 minutes to open the account, but Wisconsin managed to do it with a penalty kick resulting from an Allegheny offsides. Wisconsin put up three unconverted tries before the end of the half, with Allegheny slotting a dead-center penalty kick to make the score 18-3 going into the second half.

The second half was a completely different story, with Wisconsin pouring on tries literally from minute one to minute forty to result in a score of 8-49 against a frustrated Allegheny. Kevin Schmidt scored the final try of the game off a lineout pod, battering through three defenders to touch it down just left of the sticks. 

Overnight the weather really cleared up, and the heat from the sun brought a set of sticky humid conditions to play in. Indiana defeated Minnesota early in the day to claim the Plate and promotion to the Cup bracket for next year, while Allegheny beat Iowa for the consolation match of the Cup bracket to relegate Iowa to the Plate next year. 

Wisconsin again played late in the afternoon for the Cup final, this time at 3PM against Michigan. The game was again a slow starter, with Wisconsin taking almost 15 minutes to score an unconverted try. It came in the form of a quick tap which was distributed to Schmidt, who offloaded as he was tackled to Barbarian alumnus Carm Consolino, who dotted the ball down along the left-hand sideline. Wisconsin scored their second try at about 20 minutes, and their third at about the 30th minute to bring the score to 15-0 going into half. 

Michigan slotted a penalty kick at the beginning of the second half, but Wisconsin answered immediately with a fourth try, and a fifth about 20 minutes later. Michigan responded with the first converted try of the game, but that was their last contribution to the scoreline, as Wisconsin (just like the day before) began piling on tries in the 4th quarter of the game. Wisconsin came away with an impressive 44-10 scoreline to secure their 2nd Thunderbird Cup in as many years.

Medals were distributed, the Cup was hoisted, and pints were drunk. Wisconsin has a plethora of dedicated and talented players of all ages across the state ready to answer the call to play at the next level.

Tom Fossell
Tom Fossell
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