After years in the doldrums of the Ivy League, the Yale men’s club rugby team secured an admirable 28–19 victory over Harvard on Parent’s Weekend.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Elis, giving them a 4–3 record on the year. The Bulldogs finished the season in fourth place in the Ancient Eight and trailed the second-place Crimson by only four points.
After his successful stewardship of Yale this season, head coach Greg McWilliams will join the coaching staff for the U.S. men’s national team. Meanwhile, assistant coach Corey Jones has been called up to the U.S. men’s selection pool in his bid to play for the national team. The Elis are also preparing to compete in Japan later this spring.
“Yale rugby used to be one of the lower teams in the table,” Alika Smith ’19 said. “Now we are getting up there with Dartmouth and Harvard. Our new members have done phenomenally well, and it is a good sign for what it is to come. Our players are of excellent quality from the bottom up to the seniors.”
Entering the match against Harvard, the Elis had suffered three demoralizing defeats after starting the year 3–0. First, eventual-champions Dartmouth crushed the Bulldogs 61–3. Yale went on to lose to Brown, before Princeton narrowly defeated the Elis 24–20.
In front of fans, family and alumni, the Bulldogs reversed the season’s narrative when they faced the Crimson. Never giving up the lead, Yale jumped out to an 11–0 start. Harvard pulled the game to within four at one point but were unable to overcome the Elis. The Bulldogs eventually ran out as 28–19 winners. The rugby second team also beat Harvard in a 58–54 thriller that left the Eli group with an 8–1 record for the season.
“The win was great overall,” Philip Kapranov ’18 said. “Last year we lost by a bunch and [Harvard] definitely outcompeted us then, so it was super exciting this year to get the win at home. We’ve only won about two games a season since I’ve been here, but this year we went 4–3, which is huge for us.”
Rugby has existed at Yale in some form for more than 150 years, starting as an informal contest between first years and sophomores. Although it has never been a varsity sport, it boasts a strong and tight-knit alumni network. Two such alumni are James Ryan ’88, president-elect of the University of Virginia, and Mark Nemec ’91, president of Fairfield University.
In his role as assistant coach for the USA Eagles, McWilliams will focus on training the attack and backs as the squad takes on Germany and Georgia later this month in Europe.
“I don’t think anybody who has worked with Coach McWilliams is the least bit surprised at the recognition he’s been given,” captain Charlie Hill ’18 said. “He’s one of the top coaches in the U.S. and has a lot to offer to the national team. Corey has been a great addition to the staff this year. His unbridled enthusiasm and love for the game have been infectious, and everyone on the team is rooting for him.”
While the fall season may have concluded, the team has plans this spring to visit Hong Kong and Japan, where the 2019 Rugby World Cup will be held. For the squad’s last international tour, the Elis traveled to Argentina and Chile, but more recent travel plans fell through due to lack of funding.
To fund this trip, the team set up a series of GoFundMe pages, in which players promised to perform specific tasks — wearing a hot dog suit to class, running a marathon, doing community service, dyeing their hair — if the team meets its fundraising goals.
“The great thing about rugby is that it’s a global sport,” McWilliams said. “We were lucky to go to Argentina and Chile a few year ago. The memories they get on the tour this year will last a lifetime. Particularly at Yale, it’s important that the students can get a full experience of the world. To represent Yale in this way is a truly special experience.”
Caleb Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org