One of the best kept secrets at UVM is the prowess of its men’s rugby team, which has been ranked nationally in Division II for the past three seasons.
The club could arguably be called a powerhouse within its division, yet it remains a hidden gem within the Green Mountain community.
And now that the semester has kicked off, the rugby squad is back at it, gearing up for another run at a national championship.
The team, which has plenty of depth, didn’t face heavy losses from the graduation of last year’s senior class. The team has replacements who are more than ready to step in, according to senior captain Jack Bates.
“We only lost three of our seniors on the starting 15,” Bates said. “We should have guys that can come in and step up.”
Head coach Declan Connolly agreed, emphasizing the depth of the group of forwards that the team will feature this year.
“The last couple years we’ve been so deep, so the guys we did lose, we anticipated that so we have guys from last year that should be able to step in.”
Though the team has solid plenty of bodies at forward, there is a concern about lack of depth on the wings. Connolly is hoping that new members trying out this year can address certain holes in the backfield.
“We’re hoping to get a little injection of speed,” Connolly said. “Every year we pick up two or three guys, so if we could get a little more speed, it would solve a lot of issues for us.”
The Catamounts will rely heavily on veteran senior Charlie Powell to hold down the backfield and provide leadership to newcomers.
“He can really take charge and direct things back there,” Bates said of Powell.
Given that speed is a question mark for the group, Connolly says the team will lean on the big fellas up front for production.
“The difficulty is that you can’t coach speed, so what we’ve done is have a very organized, strategic game that’s played back to our strength in the forwards,” Connolly said.
The rugby club will take these strengths to the pitch in its opening match on Sept. 19 against defending national champion Middlebury College.
Though Middlebury has won the past two out of three national championships, Vermont is known to play them tough and be close to matching them in skill.
Bates called the matchup the “biggest hurdle of the season” but added that the game will help give the team an idea of where it is and where improvements must be made.
“They’ve always been our Achilles heel,” Connolly said. “And it’s always a great game, but has been a disappointment for us the past few years.”
UVM’s tough play against Middlebury and its consistent national ranking gives evidence to the hidden talent that lies in the club which makes aiming for the top a realistic goal for the team.
“It’d be nice to go to the national championship, I think that we’ve proved last year that we could by beating quite a few teams who got there but then in the playoffs when it counts, we fell apart,” Bates said. “We think it’s possible if we keep our heads in the game.”