Despite qualifying for the New England Championships, the men’s rugby team failed to advance to the Northeastern Championships for a second consecutive year.

Though the Bulldogs (4-3) did not win their division outright, they entered the New England Championships on the strength of their regular season record, in which they notched only one loss. The tournament took place at Middlebury, Vt., this weekend and included the three divisional champions — host Middlebury College, Colby College and the Elis’ league rival, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs lost their first game 37-6 against Northern Division champion Middlebury. The Bulldogs did improve their performance on Sunday against Colby, but their effort was not good enough to surpass the Mules in a narrow match with an ending score of 23-17. The defeat brought the Elis’ fall campaign in the New England Rugby Football Union to a mediocre conclusion.

“It was disappointing to end the NERFU tournament losing three straight in the end, but we definitely did better this year with more or less the same players,” winger Matt Reagan ’05 said.

Although the Bulldogs failed to qualify for Nationals, this regular season has been one of the most successful campaigns in Yale rugby in recent years. Within their division, the Bulldogs maintained an undefeated record right until the very last game against USCGA.

“Overall, I was satisfied with the season,” club president Jason Park ’04 said. “This year has really been a building year for Yale rugby.”

One of the key changes for Yale was the hiring of new coach Jan Pikul. For the very first time in the history of Yale rugby, the squad had a regimented practice system that helped unite the club.

“The squad has really developed this year,” prop Dong Jeon ’05 said. “We are now playing much better rugby than we had in the previous years.”

The Bulldogs became more organized both on and off the field, and this change was evident in their solid backline throughout the regular season, which contributed to the Elis’ impressive defensive record. During the regular season, the Elis allowed an average of only 11.4 points, equivalent to less than two tries, per game.

However, despite dramatic improvements this fall, injuries that took place towards the end of the season proved too costly for the Bulldogs. All-Ivy inside centre Andrew Williams ’04, one of the most valuable players on the team, hurt his collarbone during the game against Trinity and had to miss the divisional title fight against USCGA as well as the postseason tournament last weekend.

“It was a real battle towards the end of the season, and the loss of Andrew [Williams] and Rob [Smith ’06] really hurt us during those games,” Park said.

The Bulldogs will now take a two week break before playing two exhibition games against Princeton and Harvard. This year will be the third annual Yale-Princeton rugby game. The matchup against Harvard dates back to one of the oldest rugby fixtures played in North America.

“They [Harvard] played in the first division and came in second in the Nationals last year, and we would like to make a statement against them,” Park said.

The Bulldogs will travel to New Jersey to tackle Princeton on Nov. 16. Their final match of 2003 will be held at the IM fields against Harvard during the The Game weekend.

“Although it was unfortunate that we did not go further [this postseason], hopefully we will have better luck in the spring and next fall,” Reagan said.