Alumni Spotlight: Robert Meeson

When did you play for UC Davis? 2005 – 2006.

What positions did you play? I moved around from 8-man to Flanker and covered at Lock from time to time on the squad. The best times were playing blindside flanker with our big pack my last year, we had size across the board and had an impressive set of skilled players in all facets of the game.

What is your fondest memory of the club? I want to say it was qualifying to Nationals my freshmen year out in West Point, but I will always remember beating St. Mary’s on my 23rd birthday back in 2010. It was highly questionable if we would be able to play a match that week as a tremendous storm had come through the week before and dumped down on the Sacramento Valley. It was a very muddy affair, Sam Shackelford had a brilliant solo try, I was able to set up Cody Moody on a Gregan ball off the base of a ruck as well and he went in practically untouched from 10 meters out, we completely dominated them in all aspects of the game: Final score 24-11. It was sweet justice for all the losses we had against St. Mary’s in the playoffs over the years. Victory was sweet in the mud of Russell Field on that cold January day.

What did you do after school? After my time at Davis I returned to my local hometown of Sebastopol, Ca and continued playing rugby for the local team, Santa Rosa Rugby Club, with a few other UC Davis Alumni: Tyler Ahlborn, Ian Davis, Julien Howsepian and Sam Licina. We managed to make a few runs to the Division 2 final four club playoffs in Glendale, Co and eventually moved up to the Nor Cal first division. In 2015 PRO Rugby was started and I was fortunate enough to be selected to the Sacramento Express franchise as a lock. Becoming a professional rugby player at the age of 29 was a humbling experience and completely opened my eyes to new aspects and knowledge of the game. I’m forever grateful for being a part of that experience despite all the bad press and attention it has received of late. After PRO closed just before the beginning of the second season, I went North to Washington and joined the Seattle Saracens rugby club to reunite with my Sacramento teammate and current US Eagle, prop Olive Kilifi. We managed to finish 3rd in the BC Premiership, hands down the best North American amateur league I’ve ever played in. The move there was based on being prepared for any future ventures of professional rugby that might come out here in the US.

This year, Major League Rugby, a brand new professional league has started up and I have signed on with the Houston SaberCats. I’ve been out here since mid September, a week after Hurricane Harvey came through (thankfully not too much damage where I’ve been based). Outside of the everyday training, I also work for the SaberCats in a few separate roles, mostly dealing with ticket sales and community engagement activities. The organization is absolutely incredible: the training facilities are the same ones used by the MLS Houston Dynamo soccer team, our ownership group is extremely supportive of our needs as a team and the long term plans for developing a proper professional team here in the city. We’ve got the best squad of players and coaches I’ve ever played with in my life, if I were to list off everyone it would be too many players if I’m being honest. Our exhibition schedule started January 6 where we bested my old club, Seattle, 50-7 in front of 5,300 people. It was an incredible moment and I hope the league goes on as the new professional model for rugby here in the US.

What vision do you have for the team and alumni in the future? I’m very glad to see a great resurgence in the activation and unity of our alumni association. I think the sky is the limit in terms of what we can do to help raise the profile of UC Davis rugby in the American Rugby landscape. If we can build our fiscal strength and begin contributing towards an endowment, I think this is a great first step. It must start somewhere, it may as well begin now. If we can fund a proper coaching staff and medical staff, the athletes can be found on campus in these “beginning years” as we transition to a long term “rugby school” model. As the strength of the team builds on the national scene, rugby athletes will want to come to UC Davis on their own accord and we can build the program up further akin to what St. Mary’s has in place. Right now we can help these lads in planning and guidance of fundraising opportunities; I think there’s a prime opportunity to be had in running and organizing an annual beer festival in Davis that could become a recurring event as a primary income source in these early years. I’d love to return to NorCal and become a regularly contributing member of the association once my professional playing boots are hung up sometime in the next few years.

As for the team, I really hope that we can remain a top caliber program in the D1A competition, the best collegiate competition in the US. No one in the US gets to play at the same level we did in California; it was always a grind, one of the toughest schedules across the nation, and we became better rugby players because of it. I’m hopeful that our Women’s team will be-come a Varsity program at the university as this would automatically help our men’s program in any dealings with the school itself. It would be wonderful to see the team build up to three full squads and really take on training with a professional model in mind, akin to what all collegiate athletics programs maintain for their athletes. It’s easy to be the big fish in the small pond, and now that we’re back in D1A, we’re not giants in the big ocean of collegiate rugby…yet. The coaching staff in place has access to the proper tools and resources of knowledge to take these young men to higher standards and results. Excellence is the new standard, and it must be maintained every day for this team to be as great as we have come to see them per-form over the last few years. I’ll be following from afar in Houston but still rally for the boys at every chance I get.