While most of the anticipation for this weekend is focused on the football team’s upcoming battle against Harvard, football will not be the only team taking on the Crimson this Saturday. The men’s rugby team will also vie for glory before the coin toss takes place at the Yale Bowl.
And unlike the football team, which will meet Harvard for the first time this season, this will be a rematch for the men’s rugby team, which will strive to avenge their Oct. 1 loss to the Cantabs, 37-12.
The upcoming game caps a successful season for the Bulldogs. Their 3-2 record in regular season play landed them a spot in the playoffs, where they finished in fifth place out of 12 teams.
After winning New Englands last year in Division II and finishing the fall season 11-2, the rugby team moved up to the Division I league this year. Despite the challenges of facing tougher and more experienced competition, the Bulldogs said they were happy with their performance this fall, especially considering the low expectations they had coming into the season.
“We probably shouldn’t be this good,” said Rugby Club Treasurer Ervin Yeo ’06.
But the Elis have shown that they are talented enough to compete with the best.
“A lot of teams give us credit for coming in and beating teams that have been around for awhile,” said Rugby Club President Garan Geist ’06. “But we still have a long way to make it to the top.”
Their significant loss to Dartmouth, 91-0, showed Geist the high level of competitiveness within the division and also what the team must aspire to in the coming seasons. With the loss of four starting players to injuries and the graduation of many key players last spring, the team is focusing on developing their program in the Division I league.
“Certain combinations had been playing for three years, and that was a large reason for our success last year,” said captain Robert Smith ’06. “This year we had to rebuild and fill in the those holes.”
However, the team seems to be on their way to doing that. Their vast improvement could be seen in their victory against UConn, 32-12, on Nov. 5 after being shutout by the Huskies in their first game of the year, 30-0.
“We began the year playing Division II rugby in Division I,” said Smith. “We’ve now developed into a Division I club playing in their rightful division.”
During their first meeting, the Elis were handicapped by a lack of experience, and the game was dominated by the Huskies. The second match also began with little Yale enthusiasm, and a replay of the prior game might have been at hand. But the Bulldogs turned the tables, recovering from a 7-0 deficit, and took control of the game to finish with a convincing win.
“We finally got our offensive strategy to click,” said Geist. “Once we got our game going, we were pretty tough to stop.”
The team hopes to carry this momentum into their game against Harvard this weekend. Although they were slated to play one more game during the season, last weekend’s match against Princeton was cancelled because the Tigers were unable to get medics or an ambulance to the field. This lack of practice, hopefully, should not hurt the Bulldog’s performance this Saturday.
While the battle against Harvard is not considered a league game, it is traditional for the two teams to meet before the epic football matchup later in the day. Geist said the games have been tight between the rivals recently. Last year, Yale was defeated, 32-16, but it was a close match until the end.
Yale comes into this game as the underdog, with Harvard completing the regular season just ahead of the Elis in the division and finishing fourth in the league after the play-offs.
“When we step onto the field on Saturday it’ll be the team with greater heart, passion and pride that wins,” Smith said. “That’s not something you can prepare for, nor do I think our club needs to. We have all of those elements in abundance.”
If avenging an earlier loss is the trend of the season, the men’s rugby team will emerge victorious this time.
“We bounced back with a win against UConn, and we’re ready to do the same to Harvard this weekend,” said Smith.