Rough and Unpampered, Rugby Rolls On

Spirits were high as the bus carried the men’s rugby team back to Cambridge after a win over regional powerhouse Middlebury two weekends ago. Harvard eked out an 8-3 win in 30-degree weather on key scores from juniors Tim Dore and Tre Sayle.

“It was the coldest game I’ve ever played in,” said junior co-captain Jake Kersey.

An observer traveling with the team on the way back to Cambridge may have first been struck by the smell—the team has no place to shower after the game—and then by the lack of alcohol in the post-game celebration.

After all, the rugby team gained a reputation for partying in the 1980s when it brought kegs to games and then infamously was caught inebriated outside the MAC and forced by the College to disband.

But now, with its image cleaned up after years of self-imposed community service and a ban on alcohol at team events, the rugby team is looking for success on the field—and finding it.

The team has become a haven for ex-varsity athletes and, with an intense practice schedule, it has steadily improved in the regional rankings since the end of its suspension four years ago.

“Our goal is to return to the Final Four,” said co-captain Stefan Atkinson.

Taking It To The Field

In its push to build a championship team, Atkinson and Kersey’s team can draw on a long and storied tradition for inspiration.

The Harvard Rugby Club, established in 1872, is the oldest in the country and was a perennial presence on the national scene in the 1980s. In 1984, the club won the national title, and in 1990 it appeared in the USA Rugby Final Four.

A glass case with the rugby championship trophies from the eighties and early ninetes at the front of the MAC always serves as a reminder of the team’s glory days, according to senior president Jim Marett.

The team struggled in the late 1990s to recover from its temporary banishment. At first, as Atkinson recalls, “we were awful.”

In the fall of 1999, the team struggled to a 2-8 record. The next year, a dramatic come-from-behind victory over rival Northeastern in the Beanpot final sparked the team to a 5-5 record. Last fall, improvement again was steady and the team finished 8-2 and won its division.

This spring, the team will play tournaments such as the Beanpot against Boston area schools and The Beast of the East against colleges from across the Northeast.

Despite a disappointing fourth place finish at the Ivy tournament last weekend, victories over Middlebury and Yale suggest that the team could contend even this year for its goal of repeating as Beanpot champions and possibly qualifying for nationals next spring.

The team has also been attracting some attention from fans. Marett says about 200 people turned out to watch the team’s match against U-Mass last fall.