Men’s rugby has shot at winning nationals
Matt Gad—Sports Writer
Bob Chester’s men’s rugby team broke off from its seven-a-side season Saturday night to host Eastern Connecticut State University for a 15-a-side friendly at Jess Dow Field.
The Black Attack defeated Eastern 25-10 with five tries, which go for five points each, and no two-point after-try conversion kicks, and the Warriors of Eastern finished with two tries and no conversions.
Co-captain Palmer Piana said that the team’s success is something that has been a long time coming, and it is something he is very proud about.
“I couldn’t be happier with the team’s performance,” Piana said. “Everything we have been working on at practice came together perfectly. Eastern has an excellent rugby program, coming off a national title for their division last season, and we knew we had to bring our A-game.”
Chester said the sevens season has gone all right and that they are getting efforts from a lot of younger players this year.
“[The] sevens season has been a challenge because we have a lot of new guys who are learning,” Chester said. “We have been middle of the pack in most of the tournaments; we’ve played well sometimes but we haven’t been able to put it all together.”
The team will have an opportunity on April 27th to qualify for a spot in nationals, regardless of their overall record, similar to how the conference tournament works in men’s and women’s Division I college basketball.
“You’re gonna have all the best teams in the New England area vying for the conference title,” Chester said. “There are two ways to make nationals: one is being the highest point getter in the circuit and the other would be winning the conference tournament.”
The Black Attack is part of the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference, which features two tiers and area schools such as Hartford, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, Central Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University, as well as teams from farther away like Vermont, Worchester Polytechnical Institute and Springfield.
In the fall season, when they competed in 15-a-side, they finished 2-3, one spot ahead of 0-6 Hartford in Tier I.
“Our match against Eastern was arguably our best overall team performance of the year,” co-captain Andrew Goggin said. “It started off with a turnover early, but it was clear that we were the better team for the next 78 minutes.”
Going forward, the team’s next big challenge is the Beast of the East, which is a 15s tournament that takes place this upcoming weekend. Then, they will have a break before the sevens squad will play for a national championship berth.
“We have a great bunch of kids,” Chester said. “Any athlete who wants to try this game out — we’re willing to have them. You’d be so surprised at people who play different sports and how they can transition over and make a huge impact [in rugby].”
He said there have been guys who played high school football or wrestling, for example, who have been able to really make a difference on the rugby pitch.
“Some of the best people we’ve had would say they wrestled in high school, and they come out and they’re great players. I don’t want it to seem like it’s exclusive to people who know the game, because it isn’t,” Chester said. “You can come to two practices and we can teach you.”