UB Men's rugby team joins D-1A Rugby East Conference
The team hopes the change will improve the program
The Goff rugby report, a website that covers high school, college and American rugby – predicted UB’s team to finish in last place in its conference.
But the UB Rugby Football Club didn’t mind the preseason prediction because for the first time, they’ll be playing in the best division in the nation.
"Division-1A – I’d prefer to lose every game this season, but be able to say I’m playing the best competition in the United States,” said senior prop, a forward position, Alex Butler*.
In April, the UB men’s rugby team was accepted to the D-1A Rugby East Conference – one of the most competitive college rugby leagues in the country – after spending the previous three seasons in the D-1AA Empire Rugby Conference. The team caught the attention of D-1A representatives at last spring’s 7-on-7 matchups held at UB.
The team hopes playing against some of the best competition in the country will improve the future of the program, even if it means enduring losses in the short term.
There are 15 players on the field for each team, whose objective is to get the ball over the opposing ‘try,’ the equivalent of a touchdown. A player can also score by conversion kicks and penalty kicks that are worth two and three points, respectively.
The men’s rugby team is a club team, funded by the Student Association. Because of its club status, the decision to move conferences was decided solely by the players.
The players met together after a spring tournament last year to discuss the future of the team. UB joined the Rugby East, alongside Iona College and St. Bonaventure University as the three new teams to join the Rugby East.
“I was the first person to say, “Let’s go, let’s do this,” Butler said. “I consider myself as a leader on this team and it would be an honor to say I was part of the foundation for a new era of UB Rugby.”
The Rugby East consists of some of the top teams in the country, including No. 3 Kutztown, No. 5 Army, No. 7 Penn State and No. 14 Wheeling Jesuit. Buffalo faces all four schools this season.
“Our goals is to win at least two games,” said head coach Mike Hodgins. “It doesn’t sound like a huge goal, but when you’re going against four out of seven teams that are ranked in the top-20 right now, it’s a successful season.”
The team got its first Rugby East experience in a 62-0 loss to No. 3 Kutztown Sept. 13. The team may have expected the outcome, but the loss didn’t stop Buffalo’s drive.
“We went into Kutztown fighting them as hard as we could,” said senior inside centre Collin Olander. “Even though we lost, we were standing up against them. We’re trying to show [the competition], ‘Listen, you guys may have been here longer, but we’re here and we came to fight.’”
The team suffered the loss of one of its senior leaders as well, when outside centre Bryan Moore suffered a possible season-ending thumb injury in a 36-8 loss at Ohio State Sept. 5.
Senior lock, a forward position, Tim Murray has emerged as one of Buffalo’s best players in his second season on the team. Murray has progressed his game substantially and solidified himself as an on-the-field leader, according to his teammates.
The team relies on a lot of young talent. Sophomore flanker, a forward position, Colton Kells was third on the team with 35 points last season as a freshman. He is also the only returning Buffalo player who earned a berth on the Rugby East Conference All-Conference team.
Sophomore outside center John Grasso is another second-year starter. He is one of the best backs on the team and began starting as a freshman last season. Grasso’s emerged as a leader in the backline this season.
Despite a 0-2 record in conference play, Buffalo defeated Norte Dame 20-19 Aug. 30 for its first and only victory of the season thus far.
This isn’t the first time the men’s rugby team has been in the national spotlight. In 2010, the club was ranked No. 1 overall by RugbyMag.com among D-1 rugby. Buffalo finished 7-0 in 2010 and captured a New York State Rugby Conference title.
Buffalo is not in that same position now, but it has many freshman and sophomore players who have been playing rugby for up to six years prior to joining the UB men’s rugby team. The team may not be elite right now, but Kells believes it will be soon.
“In four to five years, I want us to be one of the best team’s in the country,” Kells said. “I want to be the top of this division. We are playing the top competition in the country and we will be able to play at that level.”
The team hosts No. 7 Penn State on Oct. 11. The game will be played on Ellicott Field and is scheduled for 1 p.m.
*Alex Butler works on The Spectrum’s advertising staff