Alabama Men's Rugby using brain and brawn

Alabama Men's Rugby using brain and brawn

The Alabama Men’s Rugby Football Team beat the University of Tennessee 12-8 in the Southeastern Rugby Collegiate Conference 15’s Championship. Photo courtesy of Alabama Rugby.

Tornadoes were on their way and humidity was in the air, but that didn’t stop some of the members of The the University of Alabama Men’s Rugby Club Team from coming out for a light touch practice on Nov. 29. Players dressed in T-shirts, shorts and cleats ran drills together as the sun set on the UA campus. To the untrained eye, it would appear these players were just running around and throwing a ball in the air, but a closer look would reveal that the sport of rugby is much, much more.

On Nov. 19, 2016, at Life University in Atlanta, the Alabama Men’s Rugby Football Team beat the University of Tennessee 12-8 in the Southeastern Rugby Collegiate Conference 15’s Championship. The game ended up as a fight to the finish between the top-tier teams.

Alabama senior and club president, Shawn Dawley, picked up the sport while he watched his older sister play it as he was growing up in New Hampshire. The growth of the program has instilled a pride in him that he had never felt before, and Dawley only hopes that the team continues to find success even after he is gone. Although Dawley is a major leader of the club, he credited the championship to the dedication of each member of the team.

“It’s a fantastic feeling and it’s been a long time coming, a lot of people put in a lot of work to get us here so it’s nice to see it pay off,” Dawley said. “There is nobody on this team that didn’t push themselves physically but also structurally in order to be here and have a good season.”

The championship win was in thanks to Alabama’s defensive efforts in the last few minutes when the score sat at 12-8 with Tennessee on offense. If Alabama had let up for even a moment it may have lost the game, but luckily the team persevered until the very end.

“Very stressful, very difficult, they spent all their time trying to score so we couldn’t let up for a second and we had played 75 minutes of Rugby already so it was pretty intense,” Dawley said.

Second row player Bobby Collins, a sophomore at Alabama, expressed his pride in how well the season has gone.

“I think we all expected to do well coming into this season and we have a new coach, Eddie Buckner," Collins said. "This is his second semester with us so we got to work on more advanced stuff than we were able to previously. It definitely helped our game this year and it helped us win the championship for the first time, so I think we definitely surpassed expectations throughout the league.”

Buckner said rugby is a sport that will continue to grow worldwide. He expressed his excitement to be working with such a committed team that has a passion for rugby as big as his. Buckner actually played a 10 on 10 rugby match with his groomsmen at his wedding, instead of golf, and although rugby may seem like a sport revolving around physical roughness – Buckner would be quick to disagree.

“Rugby is honestly a very tactical activity and its not just about running and hitting somebody, or running someone over or destroying them in a tackle," Buckner said. "You sometimes want to have a finesse tackle and take them to the ground but you’re able to steal the ball because the game constantly flows."

The Alabama men’s rugby team is composed of more than tactical players, it is made up of a close-knit group of men that have respect and passion for the game of rugby and its traditions. After each match both teams have a social and get together at a restaurant to celebrate.

Buckner is still friends with many of his past rugby teammates and said that he felt confident that if he called any of them for a favor or to simply get together, that they would gladly oblige. 

The sport of rugby is popular in places around the world such as Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales. The sport is slowly growing in the United States as well as Canada.

Long-standing rugby traditions include communal baths after the match, with both teams. In these baths the players would sing songs and drink together and simply celebrate the love of the game, not whoever won or lost. That was many years ago, and in Europe. Today the Alabama rugby team would prefer to get together with the opposing team at a restaurant afterwards and celebrate the match together with food, which is a rugby-wide tradition.

When asked if the songs were still sung today, the Shawn Dawley responded “no comment”  with a grin.

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