Southern Illinois Men’s Rugby looks to improve under new coach
October 7, 2022
Rugby is often considered one of the most aggressive contact sports. Unlike most sports, rugby athletes wear no protective gear during their matches. Having 15 players from both teams on the field at a time, the object is to ground the ball behind the opponent’s try line, in the in-goal area as many times as possible.
“Anyone on the team can score, unlike other contact sports,” new head coach Mike Steele said.
Although it’s not listed as a Division 1 sport at SIU, rugby has brought an amazing culture to the campus that brings families and alumni back each season.
“We have a very fun and supportive group to be around, and I wish more people would be able to see that,” first year player Henry Smith said.
Smith called rugby “the greatest contact team sport in the world.”
“There’s no other sport like it,” Steele said.
This season was monumental for the men’s rugby team and consisted of recruiting over 15 new players and acquiring the club’s first official head coach. Before, the team had never relied on a combined player-coach position to run the team. Second year player Kyle Carson said that created issues between players and player-coaches.
“Having a coach this season brings in a level of respect and willingness to learn that we may not have had last season,” Carson said.
The volunteer coach for the rugby team is SIU Rugby alum, Mike Steele, said he’s wanting to get the team back into the win column.
“It feels like I’m giving something back to the school. I’m trying to get the club back to some of the winning ways; when I played we were winning a lot,” Steele said.
15 new recruits can be a lot for a team to take on, especially in a sport like rugby where it takes years to acquire the knowledge to play a sound game. The team has been trying some new things to get all of the players on the same page that they haven’t done so in past seasons.
“We’ve been watching practice film at the student rec center to help us better see what we need to work on in the next practice or for the next game,” Smith said.
But the large number of new players on the team this season contains both advantages and disadvantages for SIU Rugby.
“We have a lot of new people who haven’t played rugby that much, but I think, with time, when everyone improves we could have a really promising team,” said Brady Forys, one of the new recruits.
The Southern Illinois Men’s Rugby team started its fall season Sept. 11 at St. Louis University. The night game was a new experience, with all of their prior games being played at 1 p.m. Temperatures for the games are usually around 80 or mid 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the night game, it was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it more comfortable for the players.
Southern played a tough, hard-hitting game, giving up only 10 points in the first half and only missing a few try opportunities and penalty kick opportunities.
The team did not give up and pressured SLU into the second half, but the Salukis again missed on penalty kicks and try opportunities. Mid-waythrough the second half, second year rugby player Kyle Carson scored, and Jacob Ray converted for Southern’s seven points.
SIU’s score and convert was followed by a SLU score and convert, which allowed them to add three more points with a penalty kick, ending the game with a final score of 20-7 to give SLU the win over Southern.
Although the Salukis lost the match, there were some positives that came out of the brawl with St Louis.
“Our strengths as a team right now are our don’t-give-up attitude, we’ve got really good spirit and the guys just don’t give up. Weakness wise, we are in a learning process,” Steele said.
The team is a rebuilding exercise right now.
“We have a lot of good athletes that are in good shape. We’re all about team camaraderie, there’s no I in team, and now we’re working on the basics to see the fruit of our efforts this season” Steele said.
The much improved team hosted Lindenwood B on October 1, at 1 p.m. on the rugby pitch on the hill just south of the SIU Arena. The remainder of their schedule follows: October 8 at Maryville University, 1 p.m.; October 15 at University of Illinois B side, 3 p.m.
Anyone who is interested in playing for the Men’s Rugby Club should contact team president, Jackson Hall, at (502) 235-6803.
Sports reporter Joei Younker can be reached at [email protected].
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