Rugby: Changing the Image
A grunting mass of Harvard men, pushing, tugging and straining at one another for no apparent reason, upset the peace of two people enjoying a recent afternoon stroll through the MDC park near the Eliot Bridge on the Charles.
"Is that a game?" one of them asked doubtfully.
Suddenly, someone popped out of the crowd with a ball and pitched it out to the first man on a well organized line, which raced down the field with quick, machine-like precision.
"Oh, it's rugby," said the stroller, but the other was already nodding her head.
As rugby has become more popular all over the east, more people have begun to recognize it--some even to follow it as a favorite sport.
And with the increase in recognition, athletes, who once regarded it as a sociable, fun-loving drinker's game, have begun to take it more seriously.
The Harvard rugby club, banned from the wet University fields until after spring break, has been practicing for over two weeks in the informal setting of the MDC park on the Charles.
But its practices are far from informal. Sprints before and after each session and various drills supplement the more leisurely scrimmaging Harvard ruggers were accustomed to.
In the past, experienced ruggers handed down what they knew to new players in an informal way. Now, however, two unpaid coaches, Harry Leat and Harry Long of the Boston Rugby Club, supervise practices.
We've got more discipline and we're more conscious of conditioning than ever before," captain Hank Lauricella said.
Rick Whiting, the other Harvard captain, said the ruggers are happy the team has "tightened up."
"The coaches have helped get us in shape," Whiting said, "and they've taught us some good solid rugby techniques through vigorous drills."
However, some of the players dislike the new regimentation. "There should be a place for an unstructured sport at Harvard, and that's what rugby used to supply," one veteran rugger said.
"The coaches are too serious," he said, adding that he thinks winning has become too much of a "goal." "We used to just go out there to have a good time, play some good rugby, drink some beer and sing some songs," the veteran said.
"The whole feeling of the team is changing in its attitude toward the sport in general," said another veteran. "Everyone's become much more gung-ho, too gung-ho for a lot of us."
Everyone agrees, however, that the team needs to learn more basic rugby skills, and that the coaches are making the players learn them.
"They're not killing anybody. It's not like they're out there saying 'get your fat ass moving,' all the time," Whiting said.
Lauricella adds that he thinks the new discipline has brought out record numbers of athletes--as many as 50 at a practice--who are attracted by the new "spirit" and the chance to learn rugby well. "But we're still loose, informal and rough," he said.
In addition, Lauricella said, the team is anxious about putting on a good show in its spring trip to the Dominican Republic. The club will play three games, two of them against the Dominican national team.
"We're getting a lot of publicity hype in the Santo Domingo press," said Whiting. "They even asked us for a picture of our team."
The team's itinerary will include a formal reception at the American Embassy in Santo Domingo, "shirts and ties and all," Whiting added. "It's unprecedented for the rugby club to appear anywhere in coats and ties."
Only time will tell whether the rugby club's acquiescence to official standards of dress is a temporary break with tradition or a reflection of a new seriousness about the sport.
There is little doubt, however, that this spring's team is the fastest and most skillful that Harvard has seen in a long time. And whether or not many wins will be the club's first and only goal, it's likely there will be plenty.