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Men’s rugby gets serious

For most Yalies, spring break in Chile and Argentina would mean time on the beach and Patagonian excursions. But the men’s rugby team flew south in March with a decidedly more serious agenda: daily practices, exposure to top teams, and the chance to finally play outside, far from the punishing New England winter.

“A lot of people see rugby tour as a vacation,” says captain John Donovan ’16. “But this was business.”

The South American tour was only the beginning of a hugely successful spring, as the club capped its year with its first-ever berth in the USA Rugby DI-AA National Championship tournament. The Bulldogs earned the trip to nationals by winning a four-team Ivy playoff, where they shocked the league with their improvements gained abroad after going 2-5 during the Ivy fall season.

“There came a point on tour when we were flinging 10- [and] 15-meter passes across the field,” says club president Louis Metcalfe ’16. “And we realized, ‘This is a team that can play.’”

Games on foreign pitches aren’t the only additions ushering in a fresh era of Yale rugby. The year began with the hiring of Irishman Greg McWilliams, a former assistant coach for the Ireland women’s national team, as the new director of the men’s program. Positive cultural change came swiftly.

“Everyone really bought in,” says Donovan. “Last spring [there were] days where we had nine or 10 kids at practice. And now it’s minimum 30. Every day.”

And McWilliams is leveraging his international rugby connections to send select players to the Southern Hemisphere again this summer. Five rising seniors are spending the New Zealand winter training with both a local side and the Hamilton–based Chiefs, an elite-level professional team that boasts multiple roster members on the world-renowned All Blacks. Not your typical summer abroad; again, not a vacation.

“Not only are we going to get bigger and stronger,” Metcalfe declares, “we’re also going to get much better at rugby.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

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