Steamboat’s Baumann makes USA Rugby World Cup roster
Steamboat Springs — Of all things, it was indecision that propelled Chris Baumann, a 2005 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, onto a path toward the top of the rugby food chain.
“The transition to rugby started when I didn’t get any scholarship offers for football and started college at the University of Wyoming,” Baumann said. “I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to study, so I didn’t go back … after the summer, I took off for Scotland. That’s when I decided I wanted to play full time and just work to get by.”
Now 28, Baumann is finally summiting what has been a nearly decade long climb. Earlier this week, Baumann was named to the 31-man roster for the U.S.A. Eagles in advance of the Rugby World Cup, which occurs every four years and is one of the most watched sporting events in the world.
“It’s the hugest accolade you could possibly get. He has been identified as one of the top 31 rugby players in this nation,” said Steamboat Rugby Football Club coach Julian Bristow. “He has a passion for the game, and he knew where he wanted to go. He definitely laid down a path he wanted to follow to get to the World Cup.”
The Eagles have one final pre-World Cup test match Saturday, when they face powerhouse Australia at Soldier Field in Chicago. Then, it’s a short break before the World Cup gets underway Sept. 18 in the United Kingdom. U.S.A. faces Samoa Sept. 20 in its first match of pool play, with Scotland, South Africa and Japan also on the slate.
“It’s a massive occasion to play the number-two team in the world, and even bigger and greater feeling that it’s at Solder Field in Chicago, and I am in the 23 match-day roster,” Baumann said of Saturday’s match with Australia. “It was a huge challenge to make the 31-man World Cup side … it is a huge step up from club rugby and one I really appreciate being a part of.”
Baumann was first invited to an Eagles camp when he was 22, but it took him until earlier this summer to earn his first cap for seeing the field. During that span of time, he has played for numerous clubs and organizations, including stints in Australia and Japan. Most recently, he played for the Santa Monica Rugby Club in California before being selected to attend Eagles camp once again, eventually getting an invitation to play in the Pacific Nations Cup this summer.
As impressive as these accomplishments are, a lot of Baumann’s development in the sport came at home as part of the Steamboat RFC.
“I was playing with him in his first year, and no one really knew how big of a beast he would be. He was a force back then,” said Steamboat’s Robbie Shine, 36, a longtime friend and teammate of Baumann. “He is definitely instrumental in turning this club around with Michael Hurley back in the mid 2000s. It really helped propel us to be a better club and obviously hopefully helped propel him to achieve his goals, like getting on the U.S. team.”
Standing 6-feet, 2-inches and weighing 270 pounds, Baumann is an intimidating figure on the pitch. Talk to any of his former Steamboat RFC teammates, and they’ll all say the same thing — it’s definitely better to play with him than against him.
“It’s been his dream, and there have been a lot of people who have helped him along the way,” Shine said. “He definitely found his calling in rugby. I’m just stoked for him.”
Members of the men’s and women’s rugby teams are holding a watch party Saturday night beginning at 5 p.m. at McKnight’s Irish Pub in Steamboat. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on NBC Sports.
“Steamboat Rugby introduced me to some great people and kept me enjoying the sport,” Baumann said. “The best part about it is being on tour with a bunch of great people. Being a World Cup year, the team is together for a much longer period. You get to know all 30 of the other guys, and there is usually never a bad story.”
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