Carmel Valley brothers earning national recognition in rugby

By Tim Pickwell

With an Irish mother and English father, rugby might be in the DNA of Johnathan and Torran Raby. The brothers have enjoyed tremendous success in the sport over the past few years, and they captained the Torrey Pines Varsity and Junior Varsity rugby squads, respectively, to a combined 17-1 record in the 2012-13 season, and into the Southern California High School Rugby Finals Feb. 16 in Palos Verdes. Sophomore Torran helped the JV defeat Palos Verde, 51-24. Senior Johnathan had a creative, behind-the-back assist and scored a try, but a depleted Torrey Pines squad (five starters injured or MIA) lost to a powerful Long Beach Wilson HS Varsity, 50-19, in the title match.

Johnathan, 18, has been playing the sport for only five years. In that short span the 6’ 2” 180 lb. senior has won Southern California U14, U16, and U19 club championships, won the So Cal JV High School championships in 2010 and 2011, the Rocky Mountain Challenge National Championship in 2012 as captain of the So Cal U17 Griffins All-Star team, and the Las Vegas Invitational High School Rugby 7’s tournament as captain of the So Cal Select Side that beat a 22-team field from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Torran, 15, surprised some by leaping past junior and senior talent from some of the top Rugby programs in the state to start alongside brother Johnathan on the winning So. Cal Select Side in last week’s Las Vegas 7’s tournament. His play in Las Vegas got some notice. Legendary USA coach Salty Thompson was in attendance, and after watching Torran, selected him to the High School All-American U17/Junior Varsity team, which will represent the USA next month in the prestigious Wellington International Tournament outside of London.

Allen Andrews, a former professional rugby player, coaches the Torrey Pines backs, and is a coach with the So Cal Griffins. He picked Johnathan and Torran to represent Southern California in the LVI Rugby 7’s Tournament last week. But, he has had his eye on the brothers for over a year.

“I first discovered Johnathan and Torran at the 2012 Griffin tryouts,” recalls Andrews. “I was immediately impressed with their work rate and ability to listen and follow directions. Although Torran did not make the final squad last year, I knew deep down that Torran had the makings to really be something special and that I would have a few more years to work with him. I told him to be patient and his time will come. Johnathan made the 2012 squad and was our captain. He had an outstanding tournament for us and earned a call up to the High School All-American Winter camp.”

Torrey Pines Varsity Head Coach Matty Sandoval, a former USD All-American, has been coaching Johnathan for several years. “Johnathan plays a position that requires exceptional speed and toughness,” says Sandoval. “He is responsible for being the first point of defense, and for disrupting the opponent’s attack. Johnathan is perfectly suited for the position, possessing a wide receiver’s speed, and a linebacker’s size and toughness.”

Johnathan started 11 games at outside linebacker for the Torrey Pines Varsity football squad in 2012, and had a key fumble recovery in the Falcons’ upset of La Costa Canyon. But, he plans on focusing on rugby in college, and will be attending St. Mary’s in the East Bay. The Gaels have the No. 5 ranked college rugby squad in the U.S. according to Rugby Magazine — outpolling all but one Pac 12 school, the service academies, and a number of East Coast rugby powerhouses.

Johnathan’s embrace of the sport includes coaching a younger team in the Mustangs Rugby Club.

Although Johnathan’s rugby resume is impressive, younger brother Torran may have more potential. According to Sandoval, the younger Raby possesses, “a stutter step move that you only see in international competition. When he has the ball and the tacklers are closing in, Torran actually slows down to let them get closer, then he accelerates out of traffic with a burst of speed. It’s quite a move.”

William “Chief” Leversee coaches the Torrey Pines Junior Varsity, and has had a hand in developing the 6’ 2” 175 lb. sophomore. “Torran is unique in that he is a big athlete with solid ball distribution skills,” says Leversee. “He is developing his tactical kicking and has proven to be a fast and stealthy runner.”

Torran’s name is a variation on “Torrey” since Mom, Michelle, enjoyed hiking at the Torrey Pines Reserve while pregnant with him. So, it’s a good thing he is attending Torrey Pines HS where he plays football, as well as rugby. On the pitch, Torran plays the #10 (flyhalf) position, and could probably get some playing time on the Varsity. “We like to keep age-appropriate kids playing together,” says Leversee, a former USA Eagle and international professional rugby player. “Torran is riding a very strong high school season and has great chemistry with his back line centers. To disrupt that pattern [by playing him up] is risky.”

Father Dean is a telecommunications engineer, and played rugby at the University of Reading in Berkshire, England, and later at the Reading Rugby Football Club where he humbly admits to starting on the “third and fourth string squads. I’m not sure where the boys got their talent.”

There is a third Raby child: Alyssa. The Carmel Valley Middle School 7th grader plays soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. But, she is forbidden by Mom from following her brothers until, “they develop a bubble-wrap suit for female players.”