North America's oldest international inter-collegiate rivalry will renew itself tomorrow at Soldiers Field when the Harvard Rugby Football Club takes on McGill College.
The Harvard-McGill rivalry dates back to 1872 when Harvard defeated the foreigners, and the rivalry has remained constant ever since, save for a break during World War II.
While the Crimson captured the first three matches, the series has been dominated by McGill through-out. The Harvard victories have come in spurts, such as the Crimson's three consecutive victories during the 1982-'84 seasons.
But the wins usually come when Harvard rugby is particularly outstanding. When it is not, the outcome is similar to last year's, with McGill taking the game--and the Cvo Cup--with an easy victory. McGill swamped the Crimson, 45-3, last year in Canada, and has won the last two meetings between the teams.
"It's always been a hard-fought game, except for the past two years," Harvard Coach Martyn Kingston said. "We certainly owe them one."
McGill usually has an edge over Harvard in the annual match-up, mainly because its players are more experienced. Canadians grow up playing rugby the same way Americans grow up playing football. So while the majority of American rugby players learn the sport on college campuses, Canadian players have been playing since childhood.
The experience shows on the field.
"They play more of an open game," Kingston said. "They use the experience of their backs well, always kick well, and are superior ball-handlers."
Harvard (6-3 overall) hopes to overcome the experience factor tomorrow with brute power.
"We will try to play a controlled and tight game close into the forwards and bully them into submission," Kingston said.
"It would really be nice to bring [the Cvo Cup] back," Harvard Co-Captain Lanny Thorndike said. "We went up there with a ram-shackled squad [only 25 ruggers made the seven-hour trip] last year, and got booted."
Considering the distance between the two cities, it's surprising the rivalry has been able to continue. Both Harvard and McGill are club teams that survive without much support from their respective athletic departments.
"It says a lot about the dedication of the kids who play rugby," Kingston said. "The sport has come from being a game of the gifted amateur--a sport as much about joviality and fun--to a decade where we have seen tremendous growth and improved organization in the sport at American colleges."
There are now over 1500 rugby clubs registered with the United States of America Rugby Football Union, and over 900 are college teams. In New England alone, there are 62 college teams registered with the New England Rugby Football Union, and like Harvard, many of these teams have three sides.
The renewed interest has improved the quality of American rugby. The size and strength of the athletes has improved, and better athletes are being attracted to the sport. With the increase in interest and athletes comes a new seriousness about the sport.
At Harvard, the new seriousness can be seen in the Crimson's preseason commitment. Harvard has participated in preseason practices during the last two years, something it never did before.