With Rugby Club Luxembourg (RCL) celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Chronicle.lu reached out to past president Tony Savage to learn about the club's origins and evolution.
RCL will celebrate this anniversary with a gala dinner at Parc Hotel Alvisse in Luxembourg-Dommeldange on Saturday 10 June 2023.
Tony Savage was involved in the club from the late 1970s through to 1990. He served as a committee member from 1980 to 1990, as Club Captain from 1986 to 1987 and as RCL President from 1988 to 1989 and then again from 1989 to 1990.
Chronicle.lu: RCL was founded in 1973, with a first meeting taking place in March that year. Please tell us about these early days and the perceptions about rugby in Luxembourg at that time.
Tony Savage: The first meeting was at the Foyer Européen at Rue Notre Dame with Brian Darke, Albert Cohen, Claude Soulliar (first President), Tim Crosby, Ross Marshall, Willy Cotton, Claude Weber, Eric Philips, John Haines, Fairfax Jones, Dave Bramwell and Nic Heinen.
From a Luxembourgish perspective, it was a new sport which was not recognised within the Luxembourgish sporting system. This was a challenge going forward. However, thanks to the patronage of Camille Polfer, the present Mayor of Luxembourg City's father, Luxembourg rugby evolved from playing in a cow grazing field during the week to a rugby pitch for home games on Sundays.
In 1977, Stade Boy Konen, Cessange became RCL's new club grounds, with shared access to a rugby field and after-match facilities. This created different challenges as to what a rugby playing field surface should be with the other sporting activities who wanted to also avail of the rugby pitch, becoming at times contentious with groundsmen and local authorities and their understanding.
Chronicle.lu: What was the main mission of RCL at that time? We understand that it became quite a big part of the (expat) community in Luxembourg?
Tony Savage: The main mission of RCL was the promotion and recognition of rugby and its enjoyment as a sport in Luxembourg. This entailed promotion within schools via the École de Rugby together with national authorities, which today has in excess of 1,000 junior licences. Obviously, there were financial and budgetary requirements to operate as a club which became significant to the club's continuation and participation in the days of the Alsace Lorraine Division of which RCL was fielding first and second teams. We achieved our annual budget through social and corporate sponsorship from international companies based in Luxembourg. As for many who were part of the RCL family in the early days, great friendships and camaraderie were formed and continue still today. This is thanks to the nature of rugby discipline and the character therein.
The mainstay in the early days of social venues were Madame Papps in Cessange for post-training rehydration and the Sunday team selections, with Um Kosakestee in Clausen hosting us (now The Pyg bar) for the normal after-match rugby gathering with copious amounts of food beer and the traditional rugby sing songs, which could make Mondays a bit difficult. Given the nature of the sport and the diversity of the characters attached it was not unknown for us to make local headlines.
Chronicle.lu: What were some of the highlights but also challenges in the early years of RCL?
Tony Savage: A significant challenge through the 1970s and 1980s was the continuation and survival of the club from a playing perspective and the financial implications attached. Fielding teams on a Sunday and getting the required numbers to train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings was at times difficult to project and anticipate given the transitional nature of the Luxembourg international community. This continued throughout the 1980s but within time the promotion of RCL as THE rugby club in Luxembourg prevailed and year on year new arrivals to Luxembourg from across the globe signed up as members and players.
In the early years, one of the successes on the field, [namely] RCL being the top try scoring club in its division, was recognised and the Alsace Lorraine committee gave a special award presented to RCL by Jean-Pierre Rives (former Captain of the French 15, Casque d’Or and French rugby legend).
Many visiting and touring sides have come to Luxembourg to play RCL. Hence, Luxembourg rugby becoming recognised was both on the field and socially a triumph given the early struggles. The continued success of the club was foremost in striving for higher playing standards that we could achieve on the field and the social calendar of activities which became a highlight and a very important part of the expat community and rugby enthusiasts, who would become our most faithful and loyal supporters.
Chronicle.lu: How did the club and sport develop over the years? How did it attract new members?
Tony Savage: The proactiveness of the founding members and those that followed was key in the continuation and promotion of the club and attracting new members via social activities or word of mouth through the various business sectors in Luxembourg. There was also recognition from the European institutions (Cercle Sportive des Communautés Européens) who allocated funds to the promotion of rugby at Senior and Schools level. The Luxembourg Rugby Federation also made funding available for representative rugby under the auspices of the Luxembourg Ministry of Sport.
Chronicle.lu: What does it mean for you personally that RCL is now celebrating 50 years?
Tony Savage: 50 years on, it is a wonderful achievement to see the success of rugby in Luxembourg. Nationally, rugby is played in certain schools at Junior level. Luxembourg has four rugby clubs, between them playing in France, Belgium and Germany. The evolution of the rugby game and discipline has changed so much over the last 50 years. However, unlike some other opposing European teams which now renumerate their players, rugby in Luxembourg continues to rely on the goodwill and commitment of all involved for enjoyment of the sport, with no financial recompense. Finally, the greatest recognition of the place rugby holds in Luxembourg is through the joint development of the national stadium [Stade de Luxembourg] on Boulevard de Kockelscheuer, Gasperich.
The rugby story success is testament to the founding members and those that followed in the management of the club, in conjunction with the national sporting authorities and above all those who represent and play for RCL today and its following.