On a wet, miserable October day with on and off rainstorms and the majority of students sporting raincoats and umbrellas, the Springfield College men’s rugby team was outside at practice in T-shirts and shorts running wild. They may have been drenched to the bone, but nothing seemed to faze their enthusiasm, as shouts of “run, ruck” reverberated around the field.
After a rough start to their season, the men’s rugby team adjusted quickly and is set for a strong closing act. The team is 1-1 after they lost to Western Connecticut State, 13-6 on Sept. 23 and then rebounded to beat Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 34-10 on Sept. 28.
“Hopefully we can win out and hopefully that will buy us a seed into playoffs and possibly championships,” senior tri-captain Chris Cole said. “We’ve got the talent.”
“I believe we can win out the rest of the season,” Mike Vlacci, another senior captain, added.
Not only do they have the talent, but this year they also have the depth to back it up. The team averages between 25 to 40 players per practice, a substantial increase from recent years.
“I remember our freshman year, if we wanted to practice scrums, we had to basically pretend. Now we have two full packs at practice almost every day,” Cole said.
The increase in members allows the team to do more at practices, and gone are the days of worrying about gathering enough people for a team on game day. The reason for the increase in participation is not necessarily clear, but once people join, they experience something that not all teams can provide: a family.
“There’s just a big sense of camaraderie,” head coach Daniel Jaffe said. “Obviously you have the teamwork that’s associated with a team sport, you get it in any other sport, but I feel like with rugby more so than others because it’s a club sport, we don’t quite get the same treatment as a varsity sport, so you really have to care about the guys next to you. These guys are your best friends.”
Jaffe is a sixth-year graduate student in the Exercise Physiology Ph.D program who also coached the team back in 2007 and played rugby as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College. After taking a break from coaching due to academic commitments, he served as the assistant coach last season before resuming his position as head coach.
Jaffe believes that the key to keeping the team’s numbers up is not only maintaining current players from year to year, but drawing in new ones by encouraging them to give the sport a chance.
“It’s just a fantastic game, and once they’re exposed to it once, it’s addictive,” Jaffe said.
Jaffe would know. He ran cross-country, played lacrosse and was a gymnast in high school before playing rugby in college. The majority of the men’s team is composed of players who share similar stories as their coach.
Mike Plourde, a junior captain, has embraced rugby after discovering it on the school website. Plourde, a former high school soccer and lacrosse player, came to SC wanting to play a sport, but he was concerned with the amount of time a varsity sport took up. Upon seeing that rugby was offered as a club sport, however, Plourde was encouraged to give it a try his freshman year. He quickly fell in love despite not being the biggest of guys.
“Rugby players, the stereotype is they’re big, huge guys. And there’s no doubt about it that there’s a place for big, huge guys in rugby, and we definitely have some on the team,” Plourde said. “But there’s also a spot for guys like me…who are a little bit smaller and a lot quicker.”
Two of those big guys that Plourde refers to are Cole and Vlacci, his fellow captains. Vlacci joined the rugby team in the fall of his freshman year, while Cole started in the spring. Vlacci jumped into powerlifting at first, but found rugby to be a better suit for his style.
“I tried it once, and I fell in love with it. I haven’t looked back. It’s the best decision I ever made,” Vlacci said.
Cole came to SC for football, but when he did not feel a connection with the program, he needed an outlet to help him stay active. Four years later, he has rugby to thank for being exactly what he needed.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be without rugby,” Cole said.
Vlacci, who echoed his words, could not agree more.
“I’d probably just be one of those kids that sits in the gym all day with nothing better to do.”
Vlacci, Cole and Plourde, along with the rest of their teammates, are not simply playing rugby to stay active, however. This is their sport.
“We train five days a week, we have team lift Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and you can ask any of these guys, they all played varsity sports either here or in high school, and we treat it pretty much the same,” Plourde said.
This dedication to not only their sport but their rugby family has the men’s team setting their sights high on bouncing back from that opening game loss to try to secure a playoff spot. Although they are still working on bringing the newcomers up to speed, the team is confident heading into their showdown with the University of Hartford on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the Irv Schmidt Sports Complex.
“The sport of rugby is like Rocky. If you’ve got the drive and the will to want to learn and to play, you can be successful,” Jaffe said.