CRIMSON STAFF WRITER
The Harvard Rugby Football Club launched itself into the national spotlight this weekend in Stanford, Calif. as it upset two higher-seeded teams at USA Rugby’s Sweet 16 Tournament, the equivalent of an NCAA championship tournament.
Its 36-29 defeat of No. 2 Utah and 53-29 defeat of No. 10 Penn State opened the door to the Final Four.
Harvard, seeded No. 15 after losing its regional match-up against Army in the fall, shocked Utah on Saturday before steamrolling Penn State on Sunday.
The wins over such strong competition came as a surprise to some players.
“I looked around at the boys after the Utah game, and they were in a bit of disbelief,” said freshman center Tim Naylor. “We were very excited to have played that well.”
However, the performance of one of Harvard’s most successful club sports and oldest teams—the Club was founded in 1872—should come as no surprise.
“This is the best rugby I’ve ever been a part of,” said Naylor, the freshman center who has been playing the game since he was a 10-year-old boy in Wales.
Harvard has not been this deep in the tournament since 1993, when the team’s trip to the Final Four netted a third-place finish. The program, which won a national title in 1984, had a fall from grace in 1998 when it was kicked off of campus for disciplinary reasons.
Hard work and strong dedication to the athletic aspects of the sport have righted the ship’s course, and allowed the squad to come a long way in a short time. It now finds itself in the company of No. 3 Air Force, No. 4 Navy and the top-ranked, perennial champion Golden Bears of the University of California at Berkeley.
Harvard will return to Stanford in two weeks to take on Army, who is the only team to beat the Crimson this year.
Harvard 53, Penn State 29
After its monster upset over Utah, there was certainly reason for complacency to set in against Penn State, but Harvard maintained its focus throughout the match and ran over a bigger Nittany Lions team to surge into the final Four.
The underdogs opened the match with a flurry of scores, and headed into halftime with a 36-5 lead.
Naylor led the way with two tries in the onslaught.