Men’s rugby team prepares for college championships in June

by Elijah Czysz | 5/20/19 2:10am

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The rugby team has been undefeated since losing to Army earlier this season.

Source: Courtesy of Dylan Burke

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club has not been defeated since its Sept. 2018 preseason loss to the United States Military Academy. In that match, the Big Green, a Division I-AA club team, finished just one try behind the DI-A United States Military Academy program. The promise shown by debut players like Jasper Green ’22 and Mike Weir ’22 has developed over successful fall and spring seasons. The Big Green will face Army once again in its initial pool for the Collegiate Rugby Championship at the end of the month. 

The Big Green rugby season stretches over the fall and spring of the academic year, bouncing between sevens and 15s competitions. The culture and style of sevens, which sees seven players on pitch, differs greatly from 15s, with 15 players on the pitch. Further, a game of 15s is played over 80 minutes, whereas a game of sevens is played just seven minutes each way.

A shorter timeframe and a less-crowded field means that sevens is more rooted in fast gameplay, and the shorter roster is composed of quick playmakers as opposed to the defensive studs of 15s. 

“Chemistry and communication on [the sevens] team is so much more vital because of the smaller quantity of people,” said Dylan Burke ’19. 

Because of the season’s structure, the Big Green must constantly switch between mindsets and play styles.

This season saw the team transition from a 100-0 15s win against the University of Massachusetts Amherst back to sevens for a first-place finish in the Ivy Sevens tournament and then back to 15s for an impressive 43-5 victory over California State University Chico in the Division I-AA Spring Championship.

“It was a great day to administer some beat-down!” said team captain Struan Coleman ’19 in an interview with USA Rugby following the Spring Championship.

The Big Green also administered some “beat-down” in bringing home their 11th consecutive Ivy League XV championship. After the Big Green easily moved through pool play, the team faced a close match against Harvard University, winning 17-12 to take home the championship.

One might not expect a club team from a small school to be hanging with, much less handily beating beating large school programs.

“History — we’ve got a rich history,” explained head coach James Willocks. “Which, then, rich history breeds culture … But most importantly it’s good people. It’s good students, it’s good leadership, it’s guys who work hard.”   

These sentiments are especially crucial for the student-led group, which relies far more on individual commitment than a varsity sport might.

“We care so much about the people that helped us become who we are that we wouldn’t think about skipping a practice,” Burke said. 

Alumni of the team have also been heavily involved in the team’s success, as they financially support the training space, staffing and equipment that allows the club to keep up with larger programs that receive school funding.

Looking to the Collegiate Rugby Championship, the team still has work to do in order to repeat its 2011 and 2012 crowns. According to Willocks, the team will be focusing on improving on fundamentals.

“[We need to] consistently do the little things at a faster rate, so at higher intensities and under more pressure,” Willocks said.

Because the CRC falls after a long run in the 15s playoffs, Burke states that what the team needs most to succeed at the CRC is to redevelop chemistry and “a sense of unity” in the sevens squad.

According to Burke, that will be accomplished through repetition. 

“On the field, it’s getting each other’s motions down, when you want to pass, when you want to offload,” Burke said. “And off the field, it’s camaraderie.” 

Camaraderie has been one of the team’s core tenets and major strengths.

“There is a side that is very loose and fun, and there is another side that is intense and motivated to win rugby games,” Burke said. “And the combination of the two helps us as a club.” 

The team will begin play in the CRC starting on June 1, when its initial pool play will be against Army, the United States Naval Academy and the University of South Carolina.