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The Garden City will once again turn itself into the Maggot City this weekend as roughly 700 rugby players converge on Missoula for the silver anniversary of Maggotfest.

This year marks the 25th consecutive year that rugby players from across the United States and Canada will travel to western Montana for the two-day tournament considered one of the largest in the nation. In all, 36 teams - 28 male and eight female- will be competing at Playfair Park Saturday and Sunday.

"There's usually good crowds out there," said Maggot Bill Merrill. "Locally we're one of the most heavily supported groups in the city behind the Grizzlies."

The non-stop rugby begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday. There will be six fields set up and every team is guaranteed three matches. Teams with the better records will square off on Sunday. However, winning isn't what Maggotfest is most know for.

"We know who the stronger teams are," Merrill said. "We try to match them up by skill, but it's more social rugby than anything and we're here to have a good time."

The festivities actually begin Thursday with a scrum called the guest-side match.

Missoula traditionally plays a match on the Thursday prior to Maggotfest. The guest side is usually the team that traveled the furthest distance to get here and the Maggots spend the extra day playing host. On Friday, the two teams will spend the afternoon white water rafting on the Lochsa River and having a barbecue before starting up again Saturday.

This year the Maggots A-side will play the Cincinnati Kelts in the guest side match at 6 p.m. at the Maggot Rugby Park, which is located adjacent to the Fort Missoula softball complex.

Included in the festivities will be some of the older Maggots who make their way back every year to play in the two-day event and rekindle some friendships. The older Maggots, or "Flies" as they have come to be known, will play the Potomac Athletic Club at 5 p.m.

"A couple of those guys have been there since the beginning of the club," said Merrill.

The first Maggotfest was in 1977 and it included just a few regional teams. Before that Montana teams had to travel anywhere from 6-12 hours in any direction to find a rugby game. It's come a long way since then.

Other local teams which take part in Maggotfest are the UM Jesters and the Missoula Betterside, the area women's team. The Jesters won a tournament in Oregon last weekend and the Betterside took home the Best Play on the Pitch award at the 2000 Maggotfest.

"Missoula Betterside is one of the favorites to win it," said Merrill. "They're pretty strong."

Awards given annually at the conclusion of Maggotfest include "Best Play on the Pitch," which is given to the team that demonstrates the best ability on the field and "Most Honored Side" which goes to the team displaying the best Rugby attitude.

Maggotfest is usually the last time local fans can watch the Maggots in action before the season ends.

"It's a good time for people who don't understand rugby to come out and watch," Merrill said.

The festival is the final tune-up before the Montana Rugby Union Championships. This year the Union Cup will be held May 12 in Bozeman. Missoula last won the state title in 1997

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