Rugby rolls to 4–0 start, routing teams along the way

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Occidental Men’s Rugby team practices drills on Patterson Field at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Occidental’s men’s rugby team has started the season 4–0, with one win coming via forfeit. The Tigers boast wins over bigger schools such as Pepperdine University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). While these other schools offer NCAA Division I athletics and have bigger talent pools to choose from and more resources at their disposal, Occidental men’s rugby has managed to come out on top.

Unlike other Occidental teams that compete in the SCIAC, men’s rugby competes in Division III of the Gold Coast Conference of Intercollegiate Rugby, which allows them to take on much larger schools — for example, UNLV’s enrollment is 30,471, compared to Occidental’s 2,055.

Occidental College Men’s Rugby team practices running drills at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2018. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Josh Greaves (sophomore) explains how this difference can put Occidental in a difficult situation on the field.

“They are a lot bigger than us,” Greaves said. “UNLV had three guys over 280 pounds and so it’s intimidating at first, but when we start playing with them we know we can beat them.”

The Tigers defeated Pepperdine University 58–5, UNLV 27–5 and Whittier College 47–0.

“The advantage we have over every other team is our coaching and our speed and athleticism,” Greaves said. “We know that we can take anyone on.”

Greaves played quarterback for the Tigers before the cancellation of the Fall 2017 football season. He now represents Occidental as the rugby team’s fly-half. Greaves is one of a number of players from Occidental’s football program who turned to rugby after their season was canceled. According to team captain Will Ayres (senior), the addition of new first years, as well as players from other sports such as baseball, compounded this boost in the team’s roster. The men’s rugby team now boasts a relatively deep roster after struggling with numbers last year.

Ayres said that the increased participation has provided the rugby team with a better opportunity to succeed.

“Even without the football guys, we would have had a few more than we’ve had in the past, which is just key,” Ayres said. “Playing rugby without a full set of subs is really tough.”

Head coach Conrad Arjun also acknowledged the impact the football players have brought to the team.

“To make the transition from football to rugby, sometimes it’s kinda difficult, but for athletes like these, it comes naturally to them,” Arjun said. “They like hitting, they like tackling and that’s what they know. The other intricacies of the game will come.”

Greaves noted how the friendly environment surrounding the team made the transition easier.

“The guys welcomed us with open arms and it’s a really fun team,” Greaves said. “I love it.”

While Arjun said that while he does not like looking too far into the future, he is optimistic about what the rest of the season holds.

“We take it one game at a time,” Arjun said. “So far, so good. We’ve played two, won two and hopefully that trend continues.”

Ayres said that he has more specific goals in mind for the team and would love to make it to the seven-a-side national finals in Philadelphia.

“It would be really exciting for me because I’m from Philadelphia and my family’s never seen me play rugby,” Ayres said.

Ayres, for one, is confident that the team can go on to have a successful season.

“It’s definitely the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here in my four years,” Ayres said. “The sky’s the limit for this team, so it’s really exciting.”

The team’s next home match is March 10 against Westmont College.