In the last decade, rugby has wiggled its way into the realm of American sports. It has become increasingly competitive at the collegiate level with roughly 1.1 million participants in the United States, according to USA Rugby.
Western rugby club head coach and program director Paul Horne said the men’s club has been in the running for several years to showcase its worth in the collegiate sports community.
Horne has been leading the men’s rugby club for the past five years. Horne was instrumental in the formation of the Western Rugby Alumni, created to further the club’s position as a competitive force. In that time, the club has significantly broadened the ethnic scope of Western’s population by recruiting athletes from other competitive rugby programs both in and out of state.
“We’ve seen a culture change,” Horne said. “It used to be the players would go around on campus inviting guys to come out and try playing rugby. Now, we’re getting eight to 10 guys every year that have come to Western because of the rugby program.”
Through funding from the club’s website, the team thrives off a small budget comprised of local donations, fundraisers and Western rugby alumni.
“We have the talent, we have a lot of guys working hard on the team and have the drive…”
Freshman Hayden Ramsay played multiple sports in high school. He said rugby was different for him than its cousin sport, football, which is what initially drew him in. Rugby is unlike football, where hitting and intimidation of your opponent are the fundamentals of fitting in, Ramsay said. Rugby requires a different level of respect between each player, Ramsay said.
“The camaraderie is just amazing,” Ramsay said. “[Rugby] is really woven in with the culture at Western.”
Senior Nate Regan, who is in his second year with the club, joined the squad to make new friends during his last couple of years at Western.
“They call me ‘old man’ on the team,” Regan said about his many teenage teammates.
The 25-year-old plays flanker and hooker positions, depending on whether it’s a regular 15 or sevens game day. While the rules of both sevens and 15’s remain the same, the major differences reside in the number of players on each team and the amount of time played. According to Western rugby’s club website, the team offers opportunities for players to experience both variations of the game.
Regan said his goal for his final season with the team is to make it to the Final Four competition in USA Rugby D1-AA National Championships.
“I definitely feel like we can make a run toward it,” Regan said. “We have the talent, we have a lot of guys working hard on the team and have the drive for it.”
In 2012, during the team’s first season under Horne and the new alumni association, the club’s sevens team finished 13th in the USA Rugby Nationals competition. Its 15’s team went on to the Final Four, but ultimately lost to Lindenwood University in the semi-finals.
Going into the new season, the club is riding a wave of success stemming from its reign in the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference over the past three years.
“Our four complete seasons [together] we’ve won the league three of those four,” Horne said.
In order for the team to make it to the playoffs, it would have to continue its three-year winning streak in the NCRC, Horne said.
“We have a good team,” Horne said. “Greatness is to be determined.”