Georgia rugby had just kicked off its final game of the 2017 season when Kyle Larsen collided head-to-head with a Georgia Tech player. Despite sustaining a brutal gash on his forehead and a piercing headache, he walked himself off while the fast-paced game continued. The clock hardly ever stops in rugby.
Across the pitch, Kyle Larsen’s teammate and older brother Joel Larsen didn’t notice the incident. Engaged in the action of the match, Joel later noticed Kyle on the sidelines with blood running down his face.
“[I was worried] for a fraction of a second, until he said he wanted to get back out there again,” Joel said. “I was like, ‘Ah, he’ll be fine.’”
The fall season ended in Thanksgiving and the spring session of their last season will begin next year. As brothers and rugby teammates Joel and Kyle Larsen reflect on their final season of fifteens rugby at Georgia, they recall how a lifetime of sports has concluded with their favorite: rugby.
A family tradition
The Larsens grew up in a household of three brothers: Erik, Joel and Kyle, each two years apart and all athletically gifted. They stayed active in a variety of sports, like youth soccer, varsity basketball and high school football at Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, Georgia.
Yet across all of the games they have competed in, the brothers agree they are playing their favorite now: rugby.
The Larsens’ passion for the rush of a rugby match goes back much farther than the two of them. Their father, Matt Larsen, played at Texas A&M University. Their oldest brother, Erik Larsen, competed with Georgia’s club before they did.
Kyle Larsen joined the rugby team his freshman year, eager to experience firsthand the exhilaration of the sport he always heard about from his father and brother. Joel Larsen, though he had already been at Georgia for a couple of years, decided to try out rugby after seeing the fun his younger brother had with the club.
“I was trying to look for a group [and] still didn’t really find one yet, so I pivoted over to rugby,” Joel Larsen said. “I just fell in love with it.”
United by rugby
While Joel and Kyle Larsen rarely run into each other throughout their daily grind, rugby has served as the vehicle for the brothers’ individual lives of coursework and different groups of friends to intertwine.
“It meshes a lot,” Joel Larsen said. “Like a lot of times on game days, we’ll throw a tailgate and all the rugby guys will come and [Kyle] will always show up.”
The Larsens agree playing on the same team helps balance their egos and maintain a healthy level of brotherly competition. Kyle Larsen admitted when the brothers play against one another, it can get “heated.”
“They’re the engines of the scrum. Together they are the ones doing the majority of the pushing. They’re the one-two punch.”
- Larry Doong, Georgia rugby coach
Aside from the common competitive pursuits of who is stronger or who is faster, Joel and Kyle Larsen are often more concerned with who is the favorite of their mother, Lori Larsen.
“They’re always trying to tell me I have a favorite child,” Lori Larsen said. “And it rotates daily.”
‘Engines of the scrum’
Joel and Kyle Larsen are linked by brotherhood, but they bring opposite physical strengths to the field. According to their older brother Erik Larsen, while Joel Larsen is tall, quick and agile, Kyle Larsen is a muscular athlete he described as a “beat-you-up kind of player.”
Yet despite their athletic differences, the Larsen brothers play the same position on the pitch as second row forwards.
Georgia rugby coach Larry Doong says starting Joel and Kyle Larsen as the club’s two second row forwards made sense because tight relationships between players often translate to stronger play.
“They’re the engines of the scrum,” Doong said. “Together they are the ones doing the majority of the pushing. They’re the one-two punch.”
The second row is pivotal to the efficiency of a scrum formation, a restarting play where players of opposing teams bind together to gain possession by pushing their bodies toward the ball. In the scrum, Joel Larsen contributes speed, while Kyle Larsen takes contact to catapult the team forward.
‘Just your brother’
Because playing sports together became commonplace for the Larsen brothers throughout their lives, they don’t feel like their rugby experience changed too much of their relationship. If anything, years of brotherhood mainly strengthened their performance as athletes.
“It’s very easy to talk to [Kyle Larsen]. We both understand each other much better than maybe two other people out there.”
- Joel Larsen, Georgia rugby player
Joel Larsen believes being his brother’s teammate has been an asset in rugby. Having grown up with Kyle Larsen, Joel Larsen says he knows how to effectively communicate with him and interpret his brother’s quiet demeanor when others may not understand.
“It’s very easy to talk to him,” Joel Larsen said. “We both understand each other much better than maybe two other people out there.”
Just like how Joel Larsen knew not to worry about his brother’s gruesome head injury last season, the brothers feel playing for the same team hasn’t been anything too special, either. Being teammates has always been a typical part of the Larsen brothers’ lives.
“I don’t think it’s that different of an experience,” Kyle Larsen said. “It’s just your brother.”