By Ernie Lubiani
Tony was a 1972 graduate of Catholic HS for Boys in Memphis.
Tony started playing Rugby with the Memphis Wanderers in the summer of 1970. He was fifteen years old and still in HS and ready to start his Junior year. He was the youngest player to play for Memphis Men’s RFC at that time. The Wanderers were the only RFC in Memphis.
Tony’s brother Ernie, back from the Army, had recently been recruited to play for the Wanderers by Arland Ace Eilert. Ernie likewise recruited Tony to run and condition himself to prepare for JV Basketball at Catholic High in the fall. After the first practice and noting the immediate welcoming atmosphere and friendship, he was a changed person. Malcomb Williams, a Scotsman who started the Memphis Club in 1968, guided him and many others through the basics of this amazing sport. Tony was forever hooked.
Tony’s first rugby match was held in September of 1970 at Centennial Park in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Tony started out playing Flanker but was later moved to Scrumhalf. He could kick with some accuracy and soon became the go-to-kicker for next 2 years.
In the spring of 1970 Tony played against the first international team, the Ottawa Moose at the Mardi gras Tournament hosted by Tulane Un. in New Orleans. The Wanderers won and Tony scored the only try in that match.
In the 1971 season at the age of 17 Tony led the team in scoring.
Over the years Tony played Rugby for four Memphis Rugby clubs: Wanderers, Bulls, Wanderers II and Old #7.
By the spring 1974 because of increasing number of players the Memphis Bulls RFC split. One half of the players chose to name themselves the Wanderers once again. The other half got a new sponsorship from Jack Daniels and chose the name Old #7. Ever since that club split there had been a healthy rivalry. It was during this time that Tony was able to recruit Steve Swatzyna. Steve proved himself to be a great Scrum-half from the start and took over that position. Tony stayed at the Fly-half position after that. Tony served as president, team captain and referee in 1974 and 1975. Tony also continued to referee through 1977. Dr. Peter Jones was the only referee at the time and Tony would referee for the Wanderers’ Matches when Peter was unavailable.
In 1975 Tony played in Mardi Gras Tournament in Hammond, LA. The Wanderers were the tournament champions defeating the defending champion University of George 6 to 4. Tony scored the only Try.
Tony’s played in one tournament outside the country. It was hosted by the Canadian Anglos from Windsor, Canada in 1977. He received a severe shoulder injury and had to fly back from Detroit.
In 1978 when the Memphis Wanderers folded Tony joined the Old #7 RFC. He played fly-half and scrum-half.
Tony’s Rugby Accomplishments were:
1) At age 15, he was the youngest player to for a Men’s team in Memphis
2) He played in the Blind Bowl on 11/30/1971 (Wanderers vs. Vanderbilt)
3) He played at the Halftime Pro-football exhibition game in the Liberty Bowl 1971, as well as two other NFL games.
4) President of the Wanderers RFC in 1974/75.
5) He served as Captain of the Wanderers RFC in 1974/75
6) He served as a Referee for the Wanderers RFC in 1974/77
7) Assistant Coach at the UN of Memphis for 4 seasons, 2014, 2015.
8) International Matches with Old #7:
a) University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1978
b) Old Brockleans Lions RFC of London, England, selected “Man of the Match”, 1979.
c) Bleanu Gwent, side from Wales, 1980
d) Bank of Ireland, and others
9) He played on the Mid South Select side when they played the Old Brokleans touring side in Nashville. He was selected by the Old Brokleans as the Man of the Match!
10) He played for the Memphis Select side against the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) at Crump Stadium.
11) Tony, along with others who were playing with Old No. 7 in 1978, made their inaugural appearance in the 10th Annual Aspen Ruggerfest, where Old No. 7 made an impressive showing, placing 4th against teams from all over the country.
12) Tony was also part of this same group that earned the first National rankings in Memphis Rugby history.