Bluffing Your Way to the Top

Even though he came to Harvard bona fide rugby star, with the experience and talent few 17 year-olds possess, Soren Oberg realized that he would likely have to wait a few years before making the A-Side rugby team.

Despite his skills, he didn't a chance of making the already strong team as a freshman. At least not without lying a bit.

"I went to practice and saw the team needed a number eight, so I told the coach I played number eight," recalls Oberg, who actually played flanker throughout high school. "I bluffed my way. I'm not sure how many of the guys figured it out. I'm sure the coach did after a while."

The number-eight position is usually held by a powerfully built veteran who directs the team's offense, while the flanker is a light wing who rapidly moves the ball forward.

Nevertheless, Oberg kept the spot on the A-Side. And the results couldn't have been better.


Oberg has been a star at his adopted position all four years he's been here, earning honors in both the New England region and his native Canada.

In his last year at Harvard, Oberg captained the rugby team to a berth in the East Regional Final Four, where it eventually fell to perennial powerhouse Army.

In fact, of his four-year career on the "A-Side" (an unprecedented accomplishment), Oberg says this past year was the most memorable.

He recalls the team's last-minute, come-from-behind victory over Pencilvania to capture the New England regional. And he remembers how the team used its fine knowledge of the game to give its oversized and much-favored opponent, Army, a good run for its money in that ill-fated Eastern Final Four trip.

"That game [against Army] will help Harvard in the future," Oberg says "Over the past four years, I've seen a change. We now feel like we're real contenders at a national level. It's a great feeling to know that you were part of that process."

The Kirkland resident says that support for rugby from both the administration and undergraduates has grown over the years he's been here.

Though it still must raise most of its budget on its won, the team receives more money from the Athletic Department than most club sports. And student participation, he says, seems to be at an all-time high. Up to 70 students play each term.

Oberg's devotion to the program, however, is curious, since rugby was never his first choice for a sport. The Saskatchewan native admits that his first love, as with most boys who grow up in Canada, was hockey.

At 15, he sys he picked up rugby to help him train in the off-season for hockey. The transition, he says, wasn't altogether smooth.

"I can remember my first time playing. Every play, this guy kept running me over, so when we took a water break I went over to my Dad and said I wanted to go home" Berg recalls.

He stayed with the sport, however, and by his final year in high school, Oberg was already playing in national tournaments. When he got to Harvard, Oberg harbored dreams of playing varsity hockey, but lacking the talent to make the big time he was content to remain on the JV squad. Rugby became his primary athletic focus.

"It's funny. Now instead of taking time out of rugby to practice hockey, I take time out of hockey to practice rugby," Oberg says.

Now that he's graduating, Oberg says he's prepared to put rugby behind him. But only for a little while. Sometime in the future, he says, he'd like to play on or possibly coach a quality rugby club. And time around, he won't have to lie about his talents to get a position.