Friday night lights
Rugby to team throw down with St. Bonaventure in season opener
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
A national ranking, a conference championship, an appearance in a national championship tournament and defeating nationally ranked competition aren’t usually things Buffalo teams are known for.
Meet the exception to the rule.
UB’s Rugby Football Club is arguably the most successful team on campus. This season marks many changes for the club, which moves to a new, more competitive conference that brings longer road trips and more national exposure.
“It’s different just because of the travel,” said senior forward and co-captain Kevin McKenna. “Now we’ve got all those downstate teams so that puts a huge onus on every game. Each counts a little bit more because we don’t have those other bye weeks. We can’t play another team twice in one season, so you are getting something new every time.”
The Empire Rugby Conference has four teams ranked in the top 25, according to Rugbymag.com: 14th-ranked Rutgers, defending conference champion and 15th-ranked Stony Brook, 18th-ranked St. Bonaventure and 23rd-ranked Iona. Buffalo plays three of these four teams to start the season, starting with St. Bonaventure.
Two seasons ago UBRFC was launched into national prominence when it beat the Bonnies on the road to start the season.
Friday’s game against Buffalo’s rival holds similar implications.
“We go back and forth with St. Bonaventure,” said head coach Mike Hodgins. “Games with Bonaventure we split last year. We beat them two years before. They beat us the year before that, so it’s a little bit of trading punches, but hopefully this one’s ours.”
This club is looking to return to its former glory.
Just two seasons ago, the team was one of the best in the country, only two points away from reaching the College Rugby Final Four, but had a down season last year as it struggled to replace lost talent with younger, inexperienced players.
This year’s team returns nearly all of its starters and is confident after a 2-6 record last year. After a full year of mulling over last season and playing against tougher competition at tournaments like the Vegas Sevens, this squad is ready to enter the ERC with a bang.
“We have a really, really exciting group of players this year,” Hodgins said. “We have some fantastic young freshmen, some rising sophomores and we’ve got some senior leadership that is really solid. We could be as good as we were two years ago, but we just have to wait and see.”
Senior back Cameron McLaurin thinks there is another factor that will help this team, too. McLaurin attributes last season’s lackluster finish to a lack of chemistry and said this team is closer than it was last year. He also thinks the road trips are an advantage for Buffalo, as this is a time for the team to unwind and just hang out and talk rugby.
Buffalo will rely heavily on senior back Tyler Norris, McKenna and senior forward co-captain Jonathon Kern. Norris is a senior who got significant playing time two years ago.
“He’s very fast, very muscular,” said sophomore forward and club president Colin Tucker. “He gets the job done.”
McKenna grew up as a rugby player and has earned the nickname “The Wizard” from his teammates for his knowledge and prowess of the game. His teammates praise him for his skill on the field and his patience for teaching more inexperienced players the game.
Kern is another holdover from the team two years ago who has become a cog amongst the forwards. Kern keeps the team disciplined and motivated during practices and leads by example.
“With it being a club sport, a lot of it is on our peers to step up to the plate and take on that leadership role,” Tucker said. “The people that we have that have done that are just incredible and really impact how we do as a team.”
The opening game of the season could not come against a better team for UBRFC. St. Bonaventure is its biggest rival and it would be a great way to start off a new era in Buffalo rugby by knocking off the Bonnies.
“Bonaventure week one, right off the bat, just shake all the rust off. That’s perfect,” McLaurin said.
UBRFC kicks off their season at 8:45 tonight at Kunz Stadium.