“Crouch, Touch … Engage!”
These are the words a forward in rugby hears right before the start of a scrum. These words may seem foreign to the majority of Americans, but to the members of Wisconsin’s men’s rugby football club, these words make them feel right at home.
Rugby is a brutal game that, despite its popularity internationally, has never been able to compete in popularity with the mainstream U.S. sports. This lack of attention doesn’t bother the Badger men’s rugby club – they just go about their business and do what they do best. Win.
The Badgers men’s 15s (15 players to a side) Division I team went undefeated in its fall season (7-0, 5-0 Big Ten). Wisconsin was also the division champion in the Big Ten West rugby conference’s inaugural season, despite having to replace six of the starting eight forwards from last year’s championship squad.
Additionally, the spotless record marked the fourth-consecutive undefeated season in conference play, a first for the program.
Not to be outdone, the men’s 7s (7 players to a side) has only one loss and will be participating in the Big Ten championship at Ohio State this upcoming weekend.
The success that the Division I squad has experienced this season is partly due to the depth of experienced players that moved up from the Division III team.
“The players on those teams were ready to step up when called on this fall to play at the Division I level,” head coach Skip Heffernan said. “We used over 30 players on our first side over the course of the fall season.”
In recent years, the club has been very successful. In 2009, the Badgers finished second in the nation and last year were able to make it to the Elite Eight of the Division I-A 15s National Tournament.
Four-year starter at fly-half and club president Jordan Heginbottom has seen firsthand the progress the program has made over the last few years.
“This team has evolved drastically since I started school,” Heginbottom said. “We used to field one team per week and scramble to get a second side match, throwing guys in whenever possible. Now, we have two competitive teams and a third side that plays regularly. I think our success has allowed us to grow as a club, along with rugby gaining popularity, as it will be in the Olympics in 2016.
“Last year, we made it to the Elite Eight in 15s, went to nationals for 7s and played in the Collegiate Rugby Championships on NBC this past June.”
Heffernan was also very pleased with the play of Heginbottom and Cory Katzban.
“Our fly-half Heginbottom and wing Cory Katzban are both deadly kickers for goal and made us a threat to score anytime we got within 40 meters of our opponent’s goal,” UW’s head coach said.
Before the start of the season, tragedy hit with the untimely death of scrum-half Ryan McGlynn’s father. The team dedicated the Sept. 22 game against rival Minnesota to the memory of McGlynn’s father.
In a bittersweet turn of events, McGlynn was able to score a try in the 31-12 victory.
“When I scored, we had a few rucks by the goal line, about five meters out and were getting stopped,” McGlynn said. “I saw a gap and I took it, and scored while getting hit. When I scored, it was a great feeling. I immediately pointed to the sky, it was for him, this whole season was. What was even better was I had a lot of family in attendance so it was like everything came together to top off a really great team win.”
As UW makes improvements each season, Heginbottom believes they will only get better as the Badgers continue to develop into one of the premier rugby clubs in the college game. From his perspective, the future certainly looks bright.
“I am confident that our team will progress further into the future, especially if we can secure more funding,” Heginbottom said. “There has been a core group of guys that started with me my freshman year and as we phase out, the program has great coaches who have groomed players in the two other teams, and we will look for strong incoming players of all years in school.”