UMass club rugby looks to continue undefeated season
The No. 17 Massachusetts club rugby team has mauled, rucked and scrummed its way to a perfect record thus far into the 2009 season. It looks to continue its exemplary play through the second round of conference action and into the postseason.
“[I’m] excited about how everyone is working as a unit. [The team] is firing on all pistons, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be tuned up,” UMass coach Al Baker said.
The team is in an unfamiliar position atop the New England Rugby Football
Union Division II Standings. Last season they could only manage a single win in conference play and, for five years prior, had trouble marking anything in the win column at all.
This season has proven to be a different story, though, as the Minutemen have dominated the pitch in all four games they played and seem poised to finish out the season in a similar fashion.
On Sept. 5, UMass earned a close win in a preseason game against an Albany team that got the best of them during spring play. That game was a test for the squad and a good gauge going into conference play.
In a match against bitter rival and neighboring school Amherst College the next week, the Minutemen played a more complete game winning a one-sided affair 51-3. Since then, the team has played as a cohesive unit in victories against top-tier conference opponents Coast Guard (2008 NER championship second runner-up) on Sept. 19 and No. 16 Rhode Island last Saturday.
Baker has credited his team’s stability as being the biggest reason for its success. The team represents a healthy balance of veteran leadership and energetic youth. Practicing as many seniors as they do freshmen is evidence of this.
High school recruits and talented transfer students give UMass a wealth of talent to pull from, allowing Baker more choices on game day and providing necessary relief for injured players, something he believes the Minutemen sorely lacked during their rough 2008 season.
It has been a complete team effort for the Maroon and White with players always willing to pick up the slack. Dominating play by the Minutemen’s physical forwards is opening up opportunities for the speed and elusiveness of their backfield to exploit them for scoring chances.
UMass has been relentless in its scoring, recording over 32 points per game while its commitment on the defensive end has been equally impressive holding opponents to nine points per contest.
According to Baker, the team is a very proud defensive squad with 15 men in pursuit at all times and eyes on recovering possession of the ball. The team aspect that this year’s Minutemen exhibit is very promising; yet, Baker won’t let their recent success distract them from their ultimate goal: Win every game.
UMass looks to do some tuning up for a post-season run this Saturday in a rematch against Amherst. Baker predicts a controlled game by the Minutemen and hopes to experiment with some different lineups. He expects the results of this weekend’s game to be similar to the first meeting. However, he was sure to urge his team this week not to look past the winless Lord Jeffs.
“[The team] has proved that they can win; now they have to prove they can be consistent,” said Baker.
Daniel Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.