A few weeks ago, I was driving down Tom Braniff Drive on a Friday night and noticed something that, a couple years ago, would have been shocking. As I drove by the rugby pitch on the right side, there was a rugby player running sprints by himself.
That kind of discipline and commitment would have been completely foreign to the team as recently as two years ago, but the total turnaround that the program has taken is a testament not only to the coaches, but the players on the team as well.
When I came to the University of Dallas, I thought the rugby team was nothing more than a fraternity disguised as a club sport. As a varsity athlete myself, it bugged me that they were the most popular sports team on campus despite the fact the team practiced just twice a week, seemed to care about the night life at UD much more than playing rugby, and frankly, didn’t seem to take their own sport very seriously. While these are strong statements, I don’t think that very many of the current players would dispute them.
The rugby program has gone in a completely different direction over the last calendar year. Much credit has been given to the new coaching staff, and deservedly so. While I don’t know very many specifics, I do know that there was a lot of dysfunction with the previous coaching staff and winning rugby games or even developing better rugby players.
This new coaching staff took over a team that had won one game two years ago and morphed them into a team that made the regional championships last year. The coaches absolutely deserve all the credit in the world for that remarkable turnaround, but the players on the team deserve just as much credit.
The all-star coaching staff that the rugby team assembled didn’t bring any new players with them, and in fact former head coach Filip Keuppens told me last year that the new staff was surprised at the talent already on the team when they got there.
It’s interesting that there was and is so much talent on the UD rugby team in the first place. Rugby is a club sport at UD; they don’t recruit, and they are made up almost entirely of UD students who decided to join the team after arriving on campus. A fair number of the players have never played rugby before join the team.
Of course, the coaches deserve ample credit for taking players that the previous coaching staff could only win one game with and taking them as far as they did a year ago, but coaches can only do so much. Much of the credit should also go to the players for buying into the message that the coaches were selling.
That message was simply “better men make better rugby players.” This motto fits in perfectly with what UD as a school tries to do with its students. However, this message means nothing if the players weren’t willing to hear it.
While the on-field success a year ago is proof that the coaches are succeeding, they didn’t just sprinkle some magic pixie dust on the team to suddenly make them so much better. The success on the field comes from countless hours of work outside of games and practices. It comes from the blood, sweat and tears put in on your own, and sometimes that includes running sprints on a Friday night.