Since its founding in 1973, the Alabama men’s club rugby team has been competitive. In recent years, the team has grown into a cohesive unit, challenging everyone who said they wouldn’t make it in a Division I league.
Nick Byrne, a recent UA graduate, has been a part of the team since 2011. Having joined after the team became a Division I club team, he said the team had grown over the course of his tenure.
“We have always been competitive but lacked the structure to be a competitive force until last year,” Byrne said. “With the right guys in leadership positions and a strong group of athletes we have become a contender.”
Despite its underdog status, Alabama rugby surprised everyone this season by winning the SEC Rugby Championship and then competing in the Collegiate Rugby National Championship this past weekend. It was the first time in the program’s history that the team would compete on the national level.
“It was just an incredible experience for everyone involved,” Byrne said.
Alabama went 1-2 in pool play on Saturday, losing to Indiana in the first match, 27-12. The team also lost two of its best players during the first game: Matthew Schick fractured a metacarpal and Shawn Branham severely sprained his right ankle. The team won 14-12 against Clemson in the second matchup. In the third pool play match, against LIFE, the team lost 36-0.
“It was crushing to go out and lose two of your best players, lose your first game of the tournament and having to bounce back from that,” Byrne said. “A lot of guys had to step up for game two against Clemson. And I think we did that.”
Alabama went on to play in the semifinals on Sunday but lost 21-14 against St. Joseph’s.
Alabama loses five seniors, including Byrne. Nine players will return in the fall.
“I’ve been playing rugby for a long time, it’s what I love to do,” Byrne said. “I love wearing an Alabama jersey and representing our University and this was just the best way I could’ve imagined ending my rugby career at Alabama alongside some of my best friends, my teammates.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports