rugby

Courtesy of Eric Han

Destination: Denver.

That’s where the men’s club rugby team — or the Uglies, as they  refer to themselves — hope to be this April, taking part in the National Rugby Semi-Finals,  an event that an unsuspecting passerby would assume to be a college bowl game.

And rightfully so. Like football, this popular European sport involves two teams composed mostly of tall, 200-pound men, a pigskin ball and two goalposts. The goal is to rack up as many points as possible by way of passing and running the ball from one end of the field to the opposing team’s end zone.

Unlike football, however, a touchdown (or in rugby terminology, a try) earns a team five points, rather than six. Football’s one-extra-point field goal attempt is also worth two points in rugby.

While an appearance in the National Semi-Finals may appear a rather lofty goal for this relatively new club that couldn’t make it past the state quarterfinals only a year ago, the Uglies have reason to be hopeful.The team has made tremendous steps forward in recent years, taking on several freshmen and walk-ons new to UR, but not to the sport. With new members arriving from rugby-dominated nations like Papua New Guinea and a sophomore who played for the Ugandan junior national team before attending college in the United States, the team has more than made up for the loss of two graduated starters from last year.

These new members join a roster of experienced individuals who are not only good at their positions, but also versatile, as sophomore Eric Han, team treasurer off the field and hooker on it (the player who hurls the ball back to his team’s side in a scrum), explains.

“We’re one of the smaller teams in the league,”  Han said. “But everyone can catch, pass and tackle. That’s huge in this sport, as most teams have no such strength. The big guys usually are able to crash through lines but are flat-footed and can’t make catches, while the smaller guys are vice-versa. Not so for us.”

The team’s new additions and versatility have shown on the field, as the Uglies have trampled the competition en route to a 4-0 record and the top seed in both New York State Division III conferences. (Division III teams are split into two divisions, East and West, which helps determine postseason seeds.) Earlier this season, the Uglies took vengeance on Canisius College — the team which eliminated UR from postseason contention last year — pounding the opposition, 52-8. The team dealt their most recent demoralizing blow on Saturday, Oct. 16, when they turned down visiting Alfred University, 70-36.

More than anything, Han attributes the team’s success thus far to his team’s love for the game.

“You can’t play this sport without passion,” Han said. “If you see this team after an 80-minute game, you will see the most broken group of people you’ve ever seen, short of a war zone. At the same time, though, you will see this tremendous grin on every guy’s face. They all love what they’re doing.”

“Everyday, I promise myself that I’ll give it everything, and if, God forbid, something happens and I go down with a season-ending injury, I’ll know I went down having put it all on the line,” Han said.

The individual Ugly plays for personal enjoyment. On the field, however, these players are nothing without one another, and it is their commitment to each other — and to their dream of Denver  — that has kept them going through tough games. This drive is what they’ll need as they begin their postseason campaign on Saturday, Oct. 22, when they tackle Alfred State once again at REC field.

“When you put on the Uglies jersey, you put the team’s name on the line,” Han said. “If you’re not giving it your all for yourself, you’re playing for the guy next to you, because you know he wants to get to Nationals badly.”

Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.



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