Rugby Team Shows Promise in Performance and Interest

As various varsity sports teams kick into gear for the upcoming season, squads are practicing daily to prepare for high-level Division III competition. What you may not see everyday are the teams that practice almost as often as varsity, without the title to go along with it. Emory’s club rugby team is among this group of high-achieving club teams.

While other schools may have more experienced players, sophomore rugby player Preston Miller wrote over text messaging that Emory’s rugby team combines toughness and work ethic to compensate for their inexperience. The result of their hard work has led to an increasingly recognized and respected program.

Former Emory Rugby Captain and President Henry Yelin (’14C) hopes for even more recognition.

“I hope that one day Emory Rugby carries the same prestige and funding as any varsity sport,” Yelin wrote over text messaging.

According to Yelin, rugby’s rising popularity across the country will aid in the achievement of his hopes.

“Although it might take a long time to reach these levels, the popularity of collegiate rugby across the nation will continue to foster a culture of rugby at Emory University,” he wrote.

Between the rugby 7’s program (seven-on-seven rugby) and the rugby 15’s program (15-on-15), Emory’s rugby teams are gaining more recognition every year.

Last year was very successful, especially for the 7’s team. The 7’s squad qualified for the USA Rugby National Division II Tournament.

“[Our success last season] got us the exposure and experience the team needed,” Emory Rugby Head Coach Rene Daniel wrote in an email.

Daniel added that he has been receiving emails from high school-age rugby players who are considering applying to Emory.

The teams feature a difficult schedule, playing colleges with much larger student bodies with more experienced rugby players. The club team will travel to the University of Georgia and play at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) this upcoming season.

These close-by friendly matches are a way to “drive interest, and from this, we may get new players to join the club,” Daniel wrote.

While some of the larger schools may have larger players, current Emory Rugby Captain and President Bjorn Anderson says that Emory Rugby can make up the difference with athleticism.

“The current trend in rugby is away from really huge players and more towards really athletic players with high endurance,” Anderson wrote in an email.

The Emory squad knows their strengths and weaknesses, and they have worked to capitalize accordingly, according to Anderson.

“Our game strategy is geared towards [speed and athleticism], and in fact, we’ve really worked on taking advantage of it in the last few years, giving us a very dynamic, reactive and cohesive team during games,” Anderson wrote.

Daniel said he welcomes all new players and even wants to start a graduate students’ 7’s team, with students from Emory’s various graduate schools.

In the meantime, Daniel is pleased with how the new players have performed.

“The current freshman class has the athletic ability to really help us improve on last years performance. We had a lot of new players really step up to the plate and perform well in our first game, despite having little to no previous experience,” he wrote.

Anderson attributed Emory’s players’ quick learning to the nature of the game.

“One of the things I like most about rugby is that it’s really just about doing instead of waiting to do things. You get out there, try it out with the team, run hard and learn by playing. It’s really intuitive to pick up,” he wrote.

Daniel views this season as an opportunity to rebuild and recruit new players, and he hopes that the team will continue to build momentum for the program.

“We are hoping to show well enough in our conference games that we can build more momentum going into next year,” Daniel wrote.

Miller believes that the number of new players on the team will be a great help this year.

“Despite their lack of experience, they have demonstrated a willingness and ability to learn the game. Our team will be a force to be reckoned with,” he wrote.

One especially exciting match is the annual Emory Alumni Game, on Sept. 20, featuring a match between current and a collection of former Emory Rugby players. This season’s game carries a little more weight, as 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Emory Rugby.

Daniel called for any interested students to come experience the sport.

“[It’s] a great social and network- ing opportunity,” Daniel wrote.

Putting aside experience and inexperience and winning and losing, Emory Rugby is a unique kind of sports team.

“It is a tough game, but the bonds made on and off the field are truly invaluable. Emory Rugby was one of the most important parts of my college experience,” Yelin wrote.

— By Ethan Morris

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Copyright 2019