Former rugby international and NFL prospect highlights coaching shuffle at Milwaukee-area rugby club

Above, from left to right: Gardener, Birdsall and Sharpe.


By Victor Drover
February 16, 2016

Milwaukee, WI – Today the Milwaukee Barbarians Athletic Club announced that Joseph Gardener (above, left) has been selected as the Head Coach for their senior men’s 15-a-side rugby programs.

Gardener has a long history of playing rugby starting with his home club — Brothers RC — in Brisbane, Australia. He’s also played professionally in Japan, France and Portugal. He represented on Portugal’s National team from 2010-2014 in both the 15-a-side and 7-a-side variations of the sport. While playing for Portugal, he won the Sevens Grand Prix Series (formerly the European Sevens Championship) in 2011 and the the Gold Medal in the World University Sevens in 2012.

In 2012 Gardener emigrated to America to test his kicking talents on the gridiron. He played for the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater as punter in 2012. In 2013 he was NFL Draft eligible and in 2014 he had tryouts for for the Browns, Raiders and Redskins.

Gardener also has a wealth of coaching experience. He’s racked up 9 years coaching young athletes in football and rugby, and is currently the National Coach and Team Leader at Kohl’s Professional Camps where he coaches punting and kicking techniques.

In 2014 he joined the Milwaukee Barbarians as a player in the backline where he played center, fullback and flyhalf. In October 2015 he took the step up to Assistant Coach.

Now as Head Coach, Gardener will be responsible for setting the overall on-field strategy for the Milwaukee rugby club’s two sides. He will also work closely with the other coaches and operational staff and volunteers to ensure that all athletes improve their skills and remain competitive at all divisions.

On game day, Coach Gardener will manage the Division 1 side.

“I'm excited to see how far they will strive to become better rugby players,” said Gardener. “They show a lot of promise and it's my job to now get them playing at their full potential.”

Gardener is the second former international to join the Barbarians coaching team with Irish professional Dominic Crotty leading the sevens program.

Birdsall tapped as Assistant Head Coach

Joe Birdsall (above, middle) also joins the Barbarians today in a new role as Assistant Head Coach of the 15s program.

Coach Birdsall hails from Philadelphia where he racked up an impressive 22-year playing career.

Beginning in college in 1991, he propped for 4 years at Saint Joseph's University. In his senior year, he captained the side. After graduation, he continued in the front row for 2 years at Schuylkill River RFC (formerly Second City Troop).

In 1997, Birdsall joined Media RFC and moved to the back row to play flanker. He continued in this position at Media until 2013.

All in all, Birdsall won five Men's Divisional Championships and advanced to the National Sweet 16 five times.

During his long playing career, Birdsall also held a number of coaching and administrative roles. He was the forwards coach for St. Joseph’s University (1996-2000) and Head Coach for both Widener University (2001-2004, 2013-2014) and Hibernian RFC (2014-2015). He also served as President and Chairman of Media RFC.

In 2015, Coach Birdsall moved to the Milwaukee area and joined the Barbarians as Assistant Coach in October. As Assistant Head Coach, Birdsall will now be responsible for helping Coach Gardener develop and execute the club’s on-field strategy.

On game day, Coach Birdsall will manage the Division 3 side.

Sharpe becomes first Director of Operations

The Barbarians are also proud to announce that Patrick Sharpe (above, right) has accepted a Director of Operations role, the first of it’s kind for the young Milwaukee-based rugby club.

Sharpo, as he is affectionately known, hails from Elmhurst, Illinois but has lived in Milwaukee for many years. He is an original member of University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. He played there from 1983 through 1988, serving as club President for one year during that term.

Sharpe is a long-time member of the Milwaukee West Side Harlequins (1988 - 2012), an active member of the Gorseinon Rugby Club in Wales, UK (1993 - Present), and a founding member of the Milwaukee Barbarians (2012 - present).

After retiring from his playing career, Sharpe served as Assistant Coach for the Harlequins and then Head Coach for the Barbarians (2013 - 2015).

Already deeply familiar with inner-workings of the club, Sharpe will now oversee and facilitate all aspects of club operations to ensure that all the coaches and committee members work together to produce a smooth and competitive game-day experience.

Coaches Gardener and Birdsall will undoubtedly reply on him as a coaching resource given his deep experience with the Forward pack.

About the Milwaukee Barbarians

The Barbarians or Barbo’s is the premier Rugby Union club in the state of Wisconsin and was formed in 2012 through a strategic partnership between two local Milwaukee teams.

As a member of USA Rugby — the sport’s National body — the Barbarians compete at the highest level by fielding a Division 1 team in the Midwest regional competition. The Barbarians also field a Division 3 team in the local Wisconsin-Illinois conference. Both competitions run a split season that plays September through November and March through May.

The Barbarians train and play their home games at Zablocki Park located at 3717 W Howard Ave, Greenfield, WI 53221.

More information on the Milwaukee Barbarians can be found online at http://milwaukeerugby.org.

About Rugby Union

Rugby Union features teams of 15 players competing for possession and territory on a pitch approximately 100 yards long and 70 yards wide. In recent years, the seven-a-side version of rugby (rugby sevens) has become increasingly popular.

Rugby players do not wear protective pads of any sort and the only allowable safety equipment is a mouthguard. Stoppages are rare in rugby and a full 80-minute match including halftime can easily be watch in about 2 hours.

The profile of Rugby Union greatly increased in the 1990s as the sport turned professional in many countries. A professional league called PRO Rugby is set to launch in April 2016 in five American cities and will be the first professional league in the United States.

Rugby Union has also gained recent attention globally with the inclusion of rugby sevens in the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics where the United States have a good chance to earn a medal.


To learn more, please contact:

Victor Drover, President
Milwaukee Barbarians
Tel: (262) 309-4140
[email protected]

Joe Gardener, Head Coach
Milwaukee Barbarians
Tel: (262) 527-8813