While the 2003 Rugby World Cup is only 30 days away, the Yale men’s rugby team, located 3000 miles from Australia, is getting pumped up for its own kickoff in the upcoming season.
Last season, the fall campaign for the men’s rugby team ended earlier than expected. The Bulldogs did not qualify for any postseason fall tournaments because they did not finish at the top of the New England Rugby Football Union Tournament (NERFU).
Despite their failings in the fall, the Bulldogs rebounded in the spring during the Ivy League Tournament. Despite entering the competition as the seventh seed, the Elis shocked all their opponents by reaching the final, falling to No. 2 Harvard. The Cantabs reached 2nd place at the nationals.
With more than 10 players returning from last year’s starting line-up this fall, the Bulldogs are hoping to build on their past success.
“I have been really pleased with the way things have been going during preseason,” captain Matthew Pawlowicz ’04 said. “Even though we lost a few guys in key positions, we still have a lot of good players back and they have been training regularly over the past few weeks. I think we have a good chance of doing well again this year.”
One key returning starter is All-Ivy inside center Andrew Williams ’04, who is an invaluable part of the team’s defense. Pawlowicz, who plays outside flanker, will also play a key role in leading the team offense on the field.
Compared to other club sports at Yale, the men’s rugby team attracts a greater number of international students, many of whom come from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Singapore, where rugby is a more mainstream sport. Among these freshmen is Ervin Yeo ’07, who has played for the U-21 Singapore men’s rugby team.
“It’s important to us to have the experience of those [international] players who grew up playing rugby, because they know so much about the game of rugby,” said Matthew Reagan ’05, who is now in his third season with the Bulldogs.
The majority of the rugby squad, however, consists of mainly high school athletes like Reagan who, after coming to Yale, made the transition from soccer and football.
“Maybe it is because I am playing myself, but I certainly feel that rugby has gained in popularity over the years that I’ve been here,” Regan said.
This upcoming fall season will feature five regular season games within NERFU and two friendly Ivy League matches against Harvard and Princeton. The first competition of the season will be Sept. 20 against Providence.