January 14 – The new YouTube series “Cross the Line” features former England rugby star and media personality Alex Corbisiero roaming the eastern San Fernando Valley, scouring football and basketball courts to assemble a brand new rugby team featuring the best athletes that the area has to offer.
Produced by World Rugby, rugby union’s global governing body, the series aims to bring together “American athletes who have barely heard of the sport” to exploit the country’s untapped potential.
On the January 4 episode, one of Corbisiero’s conscripts, Jayson Jackson, recruits some “soccer buddies,” Donnie Duncan, and Bakersfield’s own Derick Van Horne. In reality, all three of these players have played at the Eagle Rock Rugby Club in Los Angeles, one of the oldest such organizations in the country.
Indeed, for Van Horne, the lead role in “Cross the Line” was not the start of his rugby journey, but the final step on a path he hopes will lead to a professional contract. Participating in the series gave him the opportunity to learn from Major League Rugby coaches, a variety of ex-pro players and Corbisiero himself.
“I’ve grown so much in a short time just by learning and practicing and training with them,” said Van Horne.
Growing up in Bakersfield, Van Horne was devoted to football, coming from a family with four generations of ties to the Drillers. He played wide receiver at BHS until graduating in 2016. But the athletic path he ultimately chose was guided by a different family tradition.
“My uncle (Johnny Purcell), he coached rugby and started a long time ago with the University of San Diego men’s rugby team and then for the Kern County men’s club for many years,” said Van Horne. “I just grew up watching him and I went to the games.”
He couldn’t play much as a child because the opportunities were so scarce. But while studying at Bakersfield College, he got his chance.
“I just went to the local men’s club in Kern and started practicing and playing with them a bit,” he said, “and then just fell in love with it.”
This prompted him to join the club’s rugby team when he switched to CSUN, which gave him a group of like-minded players to bond with when he finished college. Rugby players applaud the sports culture, which is tight-knit due to its niche status in the US
“(In) football you have a contempt for the other opponent,” said Van Horne, “that’s what you do in rugby, but once you can get together and talk about it. It’s much more welcoming, it’s very friendly na – not so much during the game.”
No wonder Van Horne is now a good fit for Eagle Rock, where he started training in the summer while working as an accountant. After the Southern California Rugby Football Union competitions, the home team traditionally takes the away team out for food, drinks and general revelry.
“You go to any city in the world, you can go to a rugby club and you have 30 friends right away,” said Scott Mitchell, the club’s board member and player. around with, have a few beers.”
Eagle Rock hosted sevens matches – a faster rugby variant – in the summer when Van Horne joined them. He had the opportunity to team up with Jason Raven, who captained the US in seven international competitions, and was “very happy and shocked” by Derick’s aptitude for the sport.
“He showed a lot of promise right away,” Raven said. “Really a super quiet boy, but he works hard and he is one of the best players.”
While Raven was not involved in Corbisiero’s video series, he has also invested in helping the United States’ “best athletes in the world” start playing rugby, which he called a matter of “simple awareness.” He said it is very suitable for those who have previously shown an interest in other sports as it caters for a variety of skills.
“Boys’ and girls’ clubs, summer camps, just like they do football and soccer and flag football and basketball… rugby is perfect,” he said. “Because everyone is involved, everyone touches the ball, everyone can run, everyone can kick.
“Everyone can practice their individual skills.”
This is essentially Corbisiero’s guiding principle in ‘Cross the Line’.
Mitchell said he honestly doesn’t know how Whisper, the production company behind the series, decided to show Eagle Rock and its players. The club just got an out-of-the-blue email in his inbox (“At first I thought, ‘Is this one of those ads?'” Mitchell recalls). Van Horne recalled being interviewed briefly, then Corbisiero began popping up over the fall and leading his motley crew through drills during Eagle Rock training.
While Van Horne and others are not rugby neophytes, as the videos indicate – which Mitchell says could be for security reasons – Mitchell pointed out that the club currently has six or seven members who have never played a rugby game, and welcomes newcomers.
“I hope it attracts other players to run with us,” he said, “and I hope rugby in general only grows.”
For Van Horne, the series introduced him to Corbisiero, who has played the sport at levels Americans rarely achieve. And through later episodes, he got a taste of training with MLR’s LA Giltinis, whom he hopes to impress in the future to continue his rugby career.
New episodes arrive every Tuesday on the World Rugby YouTube channel.
Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.