Rough, Rugged, and UCI Rugby

Phuc Pham | New University

Some unfamiliar with the sport tend to think of rugby as a game played by men in foreign countries, wearing very short shorts while barbarically wrestling in a mud-filled field. While a charming thought, and somewhat true, there is a lot more to this celebrated sport than meets the eye.

Rugby is widely popular in Europe and is considered to be not only New Zealand’s national sport, but national religion. Back within the boundaries of the United States, the high-speed, contact sport seems to be gaining recognition. Due to international acknowledgment, rugby was officially named an Olympic sport and will be televised in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Long before the sport will be played in an Olympic stadium, ‘Eaters will have been playing the game for over 40 years. The UCI Men’s Rugby Football Club has been recognized among the oldest and largest club sports on campus. The Men’s Rugby team has been a foundation of UCI’s club sports, with over 60 players and four coaches.

Although UCI’s Rugby team ended last season on a sour note (due to playoff disqualification), the squad has a lot to look forward to this year with a new coach, enthusiastic members and a rejuvenated sense of energy. This year’s club president is fourth-year center Anthony Wong, who is a double major in business economics and history. Wong’s teammates speak highly of his admirable sportsmanship and dedication.

UCI Rugby has summoned admiration and respect both on a campus level and on a national scale. The club competes in the Pacific Mountain West Division, part of the Southern California Rugby Football Union, which is the highest collegiate rugby level in the country. In addition to a regular season, the club travels to Las Vegas once a year to battle teams from all around the country. UCI’s first preseason game is at the end of October, and they continue playing until the end of March.

With a heavy game schedule comes an intense workout schedule  – but this does not deter the dedicated UCI squad.

UCI’s rugby team is known for their concentrated practice schedules composed of distinctive drills. Team members divide their time between weight lifting and strengthening at the ARC, and practicing plays and fundamentals on the ARC fields.

The team is open to all levels of experience and athletic backgrounds. Most of the current players had never played before coming to UCI, but proved they were capable of the intensity during the practices, partly due to the encouraging environment the players have created.

“I like trying new things and rugby looked like an exciting game that offered me a real challenge,” says third-year forward Walter Lawetzki.

The Club team consists of an A and B team, and encourages interest from all who are looking for a competitive and fun environment. The club is sponsored by Life Center Chiropractic, Buffalo Wild Wings, World Rugby Shop, Gonzalez Sports Academy, F.A.S.T. Fitness Solutions and myUCIrvine.com. With the help of these sponsors, they are able to reach out the community and heighten their significance on campus.

Cory Joseph has taken the new role of coach this season. Joseph is a certified strength and conditioning coach who is said to organize rigorous fitness plans while sharing his knowledge of the sport with the team. Also, since Joseph is a personal trainer, he incorporates mental and nutritional health into practices. Joseph played on the University of Rhode Island’s rugby squad as an undergrad, where he was a three-time Collegiate All-American, and later traveled to New Zealand to play semi-professional rugby.

“Coach Cory is bringing the club new energy and revitalizing the program after the departure of our last coach and prominent recent graduates on the team,” says board member Walter Lawetzki.

Rugby is creating quite the buzz around campus this year and despite last season’s disappointing finish, the squad is enthusiastic about the upcoming season.  With a 5-4 record last year having beaten Fresno State, UCR, LMU, USC and Claremont colleges, the club was unable to participate in the playoffs due to an unexpected eligibility disqualification. However, with their new coach and players, the team is out to win the Pacific Mountain West Division and is determined to redeem themselves from last year’s disqualification in the playoffs.

In a sport where no padding, helmets or “wusses” are allowed, UCI rugby plays a big role in representing the ‘Eaters on the club level.

The ‘Eaters prove just how tough a rugby player really is and put in time, effort, hard work, determination and passion into representing UCI locally and nationally. To anyone that wishes we could cheer in the stands at a UCI football game, this is our chance.