San Diego, CA (April 3, 2014) – To honor past Natal and OMBAC great, and U.S. Eagle, the late Graham Downes, the United States Rugby Foundation, with generous support from many friends and colleagues, in particular from teammates of his from the team he founded, the Kwazulu Old Crocs, has set up the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship Fund.
The annual scholarship will be provided to a promising young rugby player and will include round trip airfare to Durban, South Africa, four weeks of professional instruction under some of the world’s top coaches at the Sharks Academy in Durban, and accommodations.
Input from U.S. National Team and Age Grade coaches has been sought in this year’s selection process and will continue to be weighed for future selections. After much deliberation, the list of qualified candidates for this year’s Graham Downes Scholarship has been narrowed down to six. The 2014 Graham Downes Scholarship recipient will be named on May 1, 2014.
Graham “Basher” Downes died peacefully at Scripps Mercy Hospital on Sunday, April 21, 2013 after succumbing to injuries he received in an assault outside his home two days earlier.
Downes’ first exposure to OMBAC Rugby was at the Las Vegas Tournament in December of 1984 and from the beginning, he fit right in. The native South African’s gregarious personality and world class rugby skills made him an instant favorite to his teammates, while his good looks, warm smile and sculpted body made him an instant favorite with the ladies.
Having represented South African rugby provincial powerhouse, Natal, on 66 occasions, Downes brought rugby experience, a huge work ethic and winning attitude to an already competent OMBAC squad in 1985. He was one of the first pieces of the puzzle that OMBAC Rugby head coach Bing Dawson would assemble. With Downes the cornerstone of the forward pack that would be known as “The Pack from Hell”, OMBAC would dominate rugby in the United States from 1988-1996 and his legacy helped keep OMBAC in the top echelon of rugby clubs in the U.S. into the mid-2000s.
Downes played on OMBAC’s 1988, 1989 and 1991 National Championship winning teams and was an assistant coach on OMBAC’s Championship teams in 1993, 1994 and 1996. After his playing and coaching days came to an end, Downes continued to provide financial support to OMBAC Rugby up until his death.
With his vast experience and knowledge, Downes could have been the boisterous leader of the OMBAC team when he arrived but he left the captaining to others, instead preferring to pick his spots to offer advice and encouragement. And when he gave it, all around him listened. It wasn’t often he gave praise but if you happened to get a “You Beauty!” directed at you, you knew you did something well.
Downes always played the game fairly and that may be, as much as any reason, why he earned the respect of both his teammates and those who played against him. Upon his death, Basher has received praise from both his teammates and opponents alike. One such opponent, Gerry McDonald, a former U.S. National Team prop who played for the Washington Rugby Club against OMBAC in the 1991 National Championship final at Robb Field, wrote this.
“It was very sad to find out the news about Basher. I have played and trained with him many times and would say he is the strongest and most technical prop I have played against. He played many games for Natal in South Africa and moved to play for OMBAC. He was playing in the finals with OMBAC against Washington, one game I will always remember. His name his team gave him was Basher and when you have played against him you can see and feel why he was given this name. Very sad news and another one of our prop brothers gone to heaven.”
Downes used his same drive on the rugby field to succeed in business. Starting his own architecture firm with a credit card in 1994, Downes built Graham Downes Architecture into a very successful San Diego firm known for providing innovative solutions for retail, hospitality, entertainment and urban mixed-use projects. The firm’s recent design notoriety has been its focus on boutique hotels, ultra-lounges, hip clubs and also urban infill housing projects.
While Basher is no longer with us, you can help keep his legacy alive by contributing to the Graham Downes Rugby Scholarship Fund.