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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Western rugby manager honored

Jeff Lombard, middle, with the U.S. national rugby team. // Photo courtesy of Jeff Lombard
Jeff Lombard, middle, with the U.S. national rugby team. // Photo courtesy of Jeff Lombard

From playing on the US National Rugby team to managing the U.S. in the sport’s first world cup, Western rugby coach Jeff Lombard can now add his selection into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame to his list of accomplishments.

“It’s been an honor and I’m very humbled to be picked out of so many capable people,” Lombard said. “I think this is the third year that they have done the hall of fame, so it’s nice to be recognized.”

The U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame is a private, nonprofit institution dedicated to celebrating the legacy of rugby in the country.

Lombard’s career all started with his acceptance to Western in 1969. The former Wenatchee Valley College football player turned to rugby when he first opened up a Western pamphlet showcasing the “most popular club sport on campus.”

“I had no idea what rugby was and I had no idea what a club sport was compared to a varsity sport,” Lombard said. “I knew I wasn’t going to play football, so I thought rugby looked like a good outlet for me and started playing that season.”

After playing for Western, Lombard  went to play for the Chuckanut Bay Rugby Club. From there, the U.S. National team invited Lombard to try out.

“I was invited to try for the team. I had to qualify for the Washington team, then the Pacific Northwest team and after I made those qualifications, then I went on to the national trials,” Lombard said.

In 1977, Lombard was the first player from the Pacific Northwest to be on the national team.

“I was on the first inaugural U.S. against Canada game in Vancouver, Canada and the very first official tour of the U.S. national rugby team, both in 1977, the year I made it,” Lombard said.

Over the years of playing with the U.S. Eagles, Lombard received three caps.

“A cap represents an international test match. You take the field for your country,” Lombard said. “My first cap was against Canada, second cap against England and my third cap was against Canada again.”

Touring about 15 countries throughout his rugby career, Lombard said his favorite experience was when the team went to South Africa.

“The best country I ever toured regarding hospitality and being taken care of was in South Africa,” Lombard said. “I saw how involved the culture and the entire country is with the sport. To them it was like a religion. The culture was so strong and everyone was totally into it. They made every player feel like a million-dollar quarterback.”

Playing flanker on the national team, Lombard suffered multiple injuries. Tearing his knee and the final blow of the collarbone, Lombard ended his career due to injuries.

“I tore my knee out, that slowed me down a little bit. I played one more year for the national program and then I broke my collarbone and at that point, I said, ‘you know, I’m getting a little injury prone. I have a business to run. I’ll be happy with what I’ve done and move forward with my business and family,’” Lombard said.

Lombard’s rugby career didn’t come to a complete stop. He was asked back to manage the national team.

“I was the first Eagle to manage our national program and was lucky enough to travel around the world, taking the team through 1988,” Lombard said. “I managed the first world cup rugby ever hosted in Australia and New Zealand.”

Western rugby player and sophomore Zachary Wilson describes coach Lombard as a committed, persistent and hard working coach.

“He’s also so relaxed and doesn’t seem like that kind of guy,” Wilson said about coach Lombard and his humble personality. Wilson never would have guessed coach Lombard was the successful rugby player that he was.

Lombard has an intense love for the game and is still just as passionate about the sport.

“Western is where I was introduced to the game and it’s Western where we’re back at after 40 some years,” Lombard said. “I’m extremely honored and happy that we can elevate Western’s rugby program and we can put back into it, that’s part of the culture of rugby, to give back.”

It all started with Western, and now it’s back to the school where Lombard was first introduced to the sport he became so successful in.


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