KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 7, 2016 — The University of Rhode Island men’s rugby team hasn’t enjoyed this kind of success since the mid-1980s. And with some key financial contributions from former Rams and others, the 2015 incarnation recently advanced to the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship, where it fell a win short of advancing to the Final Four.
The URI rugby team conquered the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference in the fall with a 9-1 record to advance to the national tournament Nov. 21 and 22 at Founder’s Field in Cheswick, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. The Rams defeated State University of New York-Oswego, 58-17, in the round of 16 on Nov. 21 before dropping a tough decision on Nov. 22 to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 31-21, in the round of eight.
“They led 19-6 at halftime and I thought we were going win,” said team captain Thomas Morin, who will graduate this month. “We made a couple of mistakes, though, and in a game like this, against the No. 2 team in the country, you can’t do that and expect to win.”
Two turnovers, including a pass that was intercepted and returned for a try and a turnover committed 5 meters from the Warhawks’ try line, ultimately cost the Rams their shot at victory.
“When you get to that level, it can be a matter of the team that makes two mistakes versus the team that makes three mistakes is going to win,” Morin said. “I think the Warhawks were shocked we were putting up such a good fight, but we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Rams coach Warren Boothman wasn’t surprised at all to see his team give the Warhawks a run for their money. He said he’s seen his team grow, beginning with some games against Division I foes last spring, in which the Rams competed well and won some of the non-conference matchups.
Since then, he said, the team realized it could play at the highest levels and that has translated into the team becoming a more confident group.
“With guys who have played two, three or even four years together, I’ve seen them pull together and they’ve become a much better team,” Boothman said. “We have really developed team-wide excellence and that’s given these guys a belief in each other. Our second team is every bit as potent as our first team. These guys know they have competition for their spots and support behind them.
“They also know that if their legs are tired, we can throw fresh legs out there and not have a drop-off in quality. Guys know they can go as hard as they can for 40 or 50 minutes and, if they need a breather, that’s OK. I sent in wave after wave of players.”
The Rams depth and talent helped them to a 9-1 record in the regular season, with their only loss coming Oct. 3 at Vermont. After suffering the first blemish on their record, the Rams rebounded to go undefeated during the rest of the regular season, including the finale at home against Vermont to lock up the league title.
With a trip to Pennsylvania suddenly on the horizon, the Rams quickly needed to raise funds to finance the trip. Boothman began emailing former URI rugby players, parents, and others, seeking donations to help mitigate expenses such as a team bus and hotel rooms.
“We needed $5,200 for the trip and, once we won the conference, we realized we were going to be quite a bit short of that,” Morin said. “A lot of the guys are balancing school and a job and had already paid $350 in dues, so many of us couldn’t afford it. Within a week, we were able to raise $6,000, so that was incredible.”
One group, in particular, came through for Rhody – members of the 1986 team, which also enjoyed a great deal of success in the New England Championships, which was as far as club rugby went at the time.
“People came up huge for us, particularly that group of guys who played on the championship 1986 team,” Boothman said. “It became like a competition among them to see who could donate the most. The emails started flooding in to the point I couldn’t respond to each one of them anymore. I also reached out to the players’ parents, and I went into my personal address book and reached out to anyone with a personal connection to URI or to rugby to see if they could help out. It’s really encouraging to see all the support we received.”
Boothman hopes to capitalize on the lessons learned this season to have the team prepared to duplicate its success both on the field and financially next year.
“Everyone is really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
University of Rhode Island junior Will Coris, of Beacon, N.Y., accelerates past a defender Nov. 22 during the Rams 31-21 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the round of eight of the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship.
The University of Rhode Island men’s rugby team poses for a team picture early in what became one of the most successful seasons in team history, culminating in a trip to the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship, where the Rams narrowly missed advancing to the final four.
Photos courtesy of Heather Allison-Heisz.