Rugby reloads after championship loss

While the rest of SLU’s student body was away on summer vacation a few months ago, SLU’s rugby team was training rigorously for the Division II 7’s National Championship Tournament in Cary, North Carolina.  The team placed second overall out of 16 teams that were vying for the title.

Although it was a disappointing end to a long road of preparation and hard work, the squad felt a sense of pride and accomplishment in their season and post-season play.  “I think as a whole we knew we were a very talented team up and down the roster,” junior Tim Lally said.  “Even though there were a few different rugby magazine writers who didn’t even pick us to advance out of our pool, we were confident in our abilities to succeed at the national level.”

The team placed fourth in the nation the previous year, but SLU was definitely an underdog in the eyes of the rugby world.  “We walked into the tournament undersized and underestimated, and not many teams took us seriously in terms of contending for the title,” senior Conor Brady said.  “Our team really thrives on being overlooked and proving that we can play with, and beat, some of the best teams in the country.”

With such an impressive finish to last year’s season, the team does not plan to rest on their laurels.  They realize that there is room for improvement and a chance for establishing a winning tradition for SLU rugby.

Brady and Lally have stepped up as two of the captains for this year, and both plan on holding the standard high for this program in a competitive sense and maintaining a cohesive, tight-knit group of men.  Their dedication to each other off the field is what helps them succeed at such a high level on the field.

“As a captain, I try to focus on keeping guys motivated on and off the field,” Brady said.  “A lot of things have to happen off the field to keep the team running in terms of administrative issues, recruiting, and scheduling that the captains help oversee.  We do whatever we can do to make sure the team is performing at its highest level.”

Lally also noted the importance of being a captain outside of practices and games.  “It’s my job to lead this team by example. We also are responsible to do administrative work and look after younger players,” he said. “We have had a string of some very good captains in recent years who have gone above and beyond in their duties.  I have had nothing but the utmost respect for our previous captains, and I hope to carry on the strong tradition of SLU Rugby that they have passed on to me.”

Joining their captains will be a large roster of returning players that will set the tone for the year.  The group will rely on experience this year, as they only graduated three seniors from their roster.  “We definitely have a good group of returning players this year,” Lally said.  “We have a lot of talent and experience that will help us achieve our goals.”

While the team will always remember the success of last year, they know it only raises the expectations from the rugby community, and those they have of themselves.

“[Last season] just raises the expectations that the captains and coaches have for the season,” Brady said.  “We saw how well we did last year, and now we are looking to improve on our second place finish.  The success we had last season really acts as a motivator because we now know what it takes to play at the national championship level.”

This just may be the year for SLU’s rugby team to clinch the national championship title with the combination of a seasoned squad and a hunger for redemption of their second-place finish.  “I really do believe that this is our year to win a national championship in both 15s and 7s,” Lally said.

Prior to this season, SLU rugby used Forest Park as their home turf. The team will enjoy a change of scenery this year, as they will be playing some home games on SLU’s Medical Campus.

SLU rugby starts their season on September 3, when they face Indiana State University in Casey, Illinois at 1 p.m.

Following that, they have three conference matches this month.  SLU goes to Maryville on September 10 at 1 p.m., then they travel again to Southern Illinois University on September 17 at 1 p.m.  Finally, they host Principia on September 23 at 7 p.m.