Men’s rugby kicks it into high gear

Rugby is a physical sport, but the bitterness between competitors typically ends with the game.

Dan Unes, a senior from Peoria studying mechanical engineering, is in his first year as men’s rugby club president after three previous years on the team.

He said the rugby community is one reason why so many members have enjoyed their short experience with the game.

“In football, you don’t like the other team,” he said. “Before and after, it’s not fun. In rugby, you battle and go fight the guys, and at the end of the day, you have a party together and everyone becomes friends.”

Junior rugby player Erik Bennett, left, chases freshman Patrick Ward, right, as other teammates trail behind during the men’s rugby club’s final practice of the season at the Upper Arena Fields. The club sits at 4-2 in the Gateway Conference and expects to qualify for nationals in the spring. Dan Unes, the club’s president, said he credits the team’s success to athleticism and great practice turnouts throughout the season. “When we get everyone to show up and practice what we want to do in the game, we can execute it,” he said. The club will travel to Nashville, Ky., Saturday to face Vanderbilt University for its final fall season game. Tiffany Blanchette | Daily Egyptian

On the field, the club has been anything but nice to its opponents. The team has won four of six games in the Gateway Conference, which was established earlier this year, including a victory against Division II powerhouse Central Missouri.

The club’s only two losses have been by a point each to Principia College and Saint Louis University. Unes said the team was missing a few starters against SLU.

This season, the club has around 40 registered members with a mix of rugby veterans and new players who Unes said wanted to go out on the field and hit somebody.

John Schiller, a senior from Wood Dale studying civil engineering, is playing rugby this semester for the first time. A lifelong football player, Schiller said rugby fills a void. Though the club’s record is respectable, he said the team is hungry.

“It’s hard to be happy with 4-2, especially when those losses were by (a combined) two points,” he said. “We’ve played well. In the spring, I expect us to win the conference tournament and go on to nationals.”

The club has not just done well with traditional 15-against-15 matches. The team went 4-1 in an Oct. 27 seven-on-seven tournament hosted by Central Missouri that put SIU in second place.

Joe O’Neil is in his third year with the club. O’Neil, a junior from Peoria studying mechanical engineering, said although the team may be smaller this year, it’s much quicker.

“We’ve got a few good stars,” he said. “We got a few guys that can take the ball and do crazy stuff with it.”

O’Neil, like Schiller, said making it to the national tournament in the spring is the team’s main objective.

“If we don’t go to the national tournament, I think we will have not succeeded at our goal for this year,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way, but if we don’t get there, we’ll all be very disappointed.”

He said the competition in the new conference has been good, especially because of the unfamiliar teams.

Unes said he enjoys the conference overall, but it lacks rugby tradition.

“One thing that we have had a problem with the Gateway is that the teams haven’t set us up after the games,” he said. “After all of our home games, we have beer and food for every team.”

Along with the conference and subsequent spring national tournaments, the club will host its annual “All Fools Classic” in April.

Unes said he has also been in touch with club representatives from the University of Memphis, the University of Missouri and the University of Tennessee at Martin who have attempted to branch out and play an established club such as SIU’s.

The sport is expanding on college campuses throughout the United States, especially in the Midwest and the South, but it has already become tradition at SIU.

“Everybody should learn how to play this sport,” O’Neil said. “It’s a great game.”

The men’s rugby club will return to competition Saturday against Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

 

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