Sophomores lead rugby revival at NU

Cameron Zick

When this years’ sophomore class tried out for the Northwestern club rugby team as freshmen, they were walking into a program that needed a face-lift.

“We were disorganized as a group before our sophomore class came in last year,” sophomore Brendan Flannery said. “A lot of people just showed up when they wanted to and didn’t take it seriously. But when we came in, we wanted to take it more seriously.”

The Wildcats were coming off a sub-par finish in the Chicago Area Rugby Football Union (CARFU), the Midwest regional league they play in. But ever since Flannery and his classmates joined the team, NU has blossomed into a league champion.

The Cats went undefeated and won the CARFU this past fall for the first time in seven years. The league championship qualified NU for the Division II club playoffs. The team also had five players chosen for the Select Chicago All-Star team, a team that will compete against all-star teams from Midwest states in the Local Area Union tournament.

“Playing on the all-star team lets you play against better competition,” sophomore Dave Boucher said. “We can also play with good people that can help your game, and it can also help your team at home.”

The hard work they have done in practice has translated onto the field recently. But convincing players to come to practice before last year was a difficult task.

Team president J.J. Darling said the team sometimes barely had enough players show up to field a team for games. As a result, the team was not able to develop its skills as well.

But since the class of 2010 arrived, there has been more of a commitment to the program, and it has paid dividends already.

“Once we got on the team, our class realized we wanted to take this a lot more seriously, so we really dedicated ourselves to turning the program around,” Flannery said. “We went from being a .500 team, barely scraping by, to being the league champions. We want to get up to that level so we can play against the really good teams in the area – which we are not at yet. But we’re young, and we’re getting there.”

The quick turnaround the team has made is credited not only to the dedication of the team, but also to its experience. Many sophomores played before college and could pass on wisdom to their fellow teammates. Some played in high school, while others came from places where a sport like rugby is an integral part of their culture.

“Growing up in London, (not playing rugby) wasn’t even an option,” sophomore James Dawson said. “When you are in middle school, you play soccer, cricket and rugby. It’s not a choice. The style of rugby is a little different here. The style of rugby in Europe has a lot more flow and is a lot quicker, while here it’s basically a bar fight.”

But Flannery said the sport is graceful in its own right.

“It’s such an all-around sport,” Flannery said. “You have to be able to sprint, have stamina, kick, pass, tackle and you have to be able to do it all to be successful. You have to be strong and mean. But it is also a sport where there’s so much mutual respect between teams. At the end of the game you don’t just go your separate ways.”

The experience of the team has helped many newcomers to the game. Rugby is a good outlet for students who played contact sports in high school and could not continue in a more “American” varsity sport.

“It’s an easy sport to pick up,” sophomore Matt Boucher, the team captain, said. “It may look complicated, but after one or two practices, they are running along with people who have played for six or seven years. For a lot of people not good enough to play Division I football, it’s another contact sport they can play.”

Over the next couple of years the sophomores would like to lead the team further in the playoffs and repeat last year’s success in the CARFU league.

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