Harvard's Pig Roasting Ruggers Capture Ivies if Not Rucked Over
Crimson Plays McGill Today in 110th Year of Series
"If I were the marrying kind, which thank the Lord, I'm not, sir.
The kind of man that I would be, would be a rugby scrum half, cause I'd whip it out and she'd whip it out.
And we'd all whip it out together. --The Harvard Rugby Club Song Book
To the uninitiated, rugby is a mad game relegated to the rough and tumble who muck about for hours, and then celebrate by balancing mugs of beer on their heads, and of course on their longues. Even loyalists, bent on preserving tradition--the chants, Pig Roasts, and leaving teammates behind on road trips--do not shrink from the tale that rugby started with marauding Britons who played a mean keep-away with the heads of slaughtered Druids.
As the Crimson ruggers head to McGill University to continue the oldest and longest-running of international college rivalries, dating back to 1874, it is obvious that rugby in Cambridge, Mass, has come a long way.
Although Harvard rugby dates back to the 1870's, the "explosion" here took off in 1978, when Harvard began to dominate the Ivy League. And in 1981, the team came one game shy of a national championship, losing to Berkeley in an overtime final.
"The game is being played more as it should be. The subtle technical play is coming into it," says Martin Kingston, the team's coach, adding that this year's squad is probably stronger than the squad that finished second in the nation several years ago.
Sporting A, B, C, and C' division, rugby--"a superficial combination of soccer and football"--added 98 new players this season to bring the total number of participants to 138 men. (In addition, 38 Harvard women ruggers are now competing in the traditionally masculine game.)
The game itself--unfamiliar to most players before they join the squad--requires speed, stamina, and endurance. "There's constant running for 80 minutes of continuous play with practically no substitutions," says Kingston, a former player himself for Manchester University.
The play runs quickly and roughly. The ball comes out of a rope less tug-of-war of human bodies, the scrum half whips the ball out to his backs, who advance in a wedge, passing the ball along just before falling to on opponent's tackle. Sometimes the backs kick the ball; other times they get tackled, drop the ball, the forwards fight over it and the play starts again.
Scoring is similar to American football, with a four-point try roughly equivalent to a touchdown, a three-point penalty kick or dropkick analogous to a field goal and a two-point conversion similar to a PAT.
"Athletically, our players are as good as any varsity athlete in terms of fitness," adds Kingston citing that several Harvard ruggers have been lettermen on other varsity sports.
Harvard rugby, however, remains a club sport, and has on several occasions rejected varsity status. The philosophy is almost a "rebellion against the institutionalized authority of American sport--its over structured, over-rigorous attitude," says Kingston.
The rugby team thinks of itself as a community, where "guys who got disillusioned with other sports seem to find common ground in rugby," says senior Mark Hissey, president of the club.
"Everyone gets on so well, as we put our friendship before playing," adds Hissey.
But there are tradeoffs as a result of this willful independence. "We've had to move the posts on the field at 7 a.m., or sometimes bribe Buildings and Grounds men with cases of beer to put down the lines, plus each player usually must spend between $150-$400 out-of-pocket money for uniform, dues, and travel expenses," explains a squad member.
Recently, the rugby team's relationship with the University has improved significantly. As Kingston puts it. "They approached us by saying that they want to work with us, apparently concerned over the health and safety of the players."
And for the first time, the team has been assigned its own trainer and stretcher, and plays its home games on a new regulation-size rugby pitch, behind the Palmer-Dixon Tennis Courts.
But the social spirit among team players indicates that keeping rugby a club activity "attracts all kinds of less athletic, humorous people and offers a certain integrity about it," says Kingston, who also serves as Assistant Senior Tutor in Eliot House.
Unique to rugby is the great interaction the players have with the fans. At the end of the games, fans mix with players of both teams and everybody gets together to sing songs, says Peter Choharis.
Despite all this camraderie, Crimson rugby isn't taken lightly. Competition for some spots is so tight that as many as "eight gifted players" might be trying for one spot, says Kingston. And a host of players--Kevin Lennon, Hassan Rifast, Gus Spanos, John Beilenson, John Kennedy and Mark Bumford--are considered likely prospects to be named to the New England Select Team.
Although Boston University last week dashed the Crimson's hopes for a national championship, a perfect Ivy League slate is still on the line as the ruggers tackle Columbia and then Yale in the next two weeks.