Hughes ’15 to captain USA in rugby sevens

by Gayne Kalustian | 9/29/14 2:49pm

Madison Hughes ’15 already boasts a number of rugby accolades: two-time Big Green captain, three-time Collegiate 15s All-American, two-time Collegiate sevens All-American (he wanted a “rest” year), collegiate 15s All-American captain and two-time representative of the U.S. in sevens. Now, he is captain of the national team, which will head to the Gold Coast Sevens in Australia next month for the first leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.

The team plays Canada Oct. 11 and hopes to establish USA Rugby as force to reckoned with, Hughes said.

Hughes is the fourth Big Green player to captain a team for USA Rugby — the most any university has produced since the U.S. began to participate in international rugby, said Dartmouth Rugby Football Club coach Alexander Magleby ’00. The longstanding tradition of rugby excellence indicates Dartmouth’s strength on Brophy Field, he said.

Traditionally a fullback, Hughes has moved up and down the back line for the Eagles, settling at scrumhalf this international season and assuming a large portion of the responsibility for the decision-making off the ruck for team USA. Switching from fullback in 15s to scrumhalf, he said, will challenge his ability to make quick decisions.

“You can’t have the luxury of making a decision and realizing a couple of seconds later, ‘that’s wrong — I am going to do something else,’” he said. “Often when you make a decision you have to stick with it even if it wasn’t the best one you could have made. You have to make it work.”

Hughes said he has focused this season in Big Green games on mastering the skills of scrumhalf at the urging of USA Rugby coaches, who would like to see him develop his position oriented skills like box kicks and scrum passes from the ground. Every moment for Hughes, teammate Mike McDavid ’15 said, is an opportunity to perfect his art, noting that Hughes often stays after practice to hone his skills.

The Big Green has gone largely unchallenged in Ivy play thus far, after two blowouts against both Cornell University and Harvard University. These easy wint leave players like Hughes and the other seven Dartmouth men on the All-Ivy First 15 hungry for the kind of action that players see in the most competitive national and international matches. Scrimmaging in practice, Hughes said, can often provide the biggest challenge in the League.

“When we practice for Dartmouth, we say that we think our B team is the second best team in the Ivy League,” he said. “We really think that every day at practice we’re playing against a competitive team, so that helps me get those reps in and develop as a player.”

Even with his national honors, Hughes goes to extremes to remain connected to his home club. Last weekend, he caught a red eye from the national team camp in California to stand on the sideline and support the rest of the team for its 58-0 win over Harvard.

“He is not a shouter but understands the game and speaks with authority, calmness and clarity on what he wants from the boys and has shown the leadership in driving the squad in what we are looking to achieve with the ball and without the ball,” Eagles coach Mike Friday, who previously manned the sidelines for team England and Kenya, said in an a September interview with USA Rugby.

Hughes said that getting involved on the pitch is the key for him, whether donning the red, white and blue or the green and white.

“You can’t just sit on the side and get by and play the game,” he said. “You’ve got to be involved in getting the team from A to B and improve.”