If you know anything about rugby, you know that it is typically played with 15 players on a side. However, if you are a true rugby fanatic, you know that the 7-a-side version of the sport is rapidly increasing in popularity worldwide. In fact, sevens rugby will be featured in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Rugby is the second most popular sport in the world, but on college campuses here in America very few teams are official varsity sports. Most, like our team at Purdue, are club teams that get limited support from the university, just like Purdue's hockey teams and men's volleyball and soccer teams.
This year Purdue Men's Rugby and most of college rugby are focusing on sevens for the Spring season, with a few XVs games here or there. You can check out their schedule here. Purdue is scheduled to play in five sevens tournaments throughout the year, starting today in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton event and next week's event at Notre Dame have no bearing on the team's postseason chances, but will still offer a chance to win some hardware for the team. The most important tournaments will be the Big Ten Universities tourneys in April. The first two will be at the University of Michigan on the 4th and the University of Iowa on the 11th. The following week, the University of Illinois will host the BTU Championship tournament.
The BTU isn't affiliated with the real B1G conference, but is rather made up of 10 rugby teams from schools in the conference. Northwestern, Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland are omitted from the XVs season for various reasons. For the BTU Sevens Championship this season, Ohio State and Nebraska are also not participating, but Northwestern will. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will only be available for the first two tournaments due to playoff games for XVs, but will participate in the Championship. Overall, the participation is a bit confusing, but the goal is not.
Every BTU team wants to win the championship, not just for the trophy and bragging rights, but because a victory qualifies you for the two biggest events of the collegiate sevens season. The first is the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia. This event will be televised on NBC Sports and is in its sixth year since starting in 2010. The second is the USA Rugby Seven National Championship in Denver. Which is a big deal because, well, it is the National Championship, sanctioned by USA Rugby, the governing body of rugby in the US.
Purdue has never qualified for either of these events in the past, but I talked with Purdue's sevens coach Matt Wagner and he felt confident that his team could compete for the BTU Championship and beyond. After being young and inexperienced last season, he mentioned the return of players such as Jeremy Lehman, Deion Crowder, and Ryan Vizek as an important part of this years success. Some new players for this season have also added athleticism and the experience of growing up in a rugby-dominated country including Patrick Jenkinson from England and Eremia Tapsell from New Zealand. Newcomer Connor Jacobs was also mentioned as an important addition.
In the end, whether they win the BTU or not, it should be an exciting season for Purdue Men's Rugby, and I will try to keep you updated throughout the season. Be sure to check out their Facebook page here and if you are former Purdue player be sure to try and make it to the 45th anniversary alumni event, details here.