Not your usual spring break: Norwich men’s rugby faces tough tournament in Bermuda

Five players were honored by the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference this spring. Junior #8 Eric Pierce , junior fly half Keegan Frick and sophomore scrum half Tom St. Pierre were all named to the All-Conference team. Pierone, fellow junior Matthew Rambin and sophomore Pasquale Cassese were also named to the NECRC All-Academic team which requires sophomore standing and a 3.25 GPA or higher.

Five players were honored by the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference this spring. Junior #8 Eric Pierce , junior fly half Keegan Frick and sophomore scrum half Tom St. Pierre were all named to the All-Conference team.
Pierone, fellow junior Matthew Rambin and sophomore Pasquale Cassese were also named to the NECRC All-Academic team which requires sophomore standing and a 3.25 GPA or higher.

Each year during spring break, a few Norwich sports teams get the chance to travel and compete outside of Vermont. Of those teams, the university’s Men’s Rugby program is one of the only ones to compete internationally on a consistent basis.

“Playing outside the U.S. definitely gives us the ability to really test our skills,” said left side second row James Rowan, a 20-year-old junior construction management major from Fairfax, Va. “We are able to see different styles of rugby used by other countries.”

For the last 20 years, the Cadets have been participating in an annual match against the men’s team from Bishop’s University, a school in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The sides balance the travel between one another, rotating visits each year. The game has become a solidified tradition – held at the end of fall training camp as a kickoff to the regular season.

“The Bishop’s game is probably one of our most fun and friendly matches; they’re a good group of guys,” said second row right side Jack England, a 21-year-old senior criminal justice major from Weymouth, Mass. “It’s also a wakeup call for our team so we know what to expect and what we can work on for the rest of the year.”

However, the team doesn’t just limit its prospective scope to the western hemisphere. Last spring, the Cadets made the trek to the United Kingdom where they pitted their skills against some of the most competitive teams in the world, including two semi-professional teams – Sherborne Rugby Football Club in Dorset, England, and Brynthecin Rugby Football Club in Wales – and a college club from the Imperial Medical College in London.

“It was a great experience for the guys, we got to rotate everyone so they had a chance to play and learn a thing or two against very tough competitors,” said head coach Bob Weggler. “It’s very important for their development as a team to understand the different styles of play in this game.”

Aside from competing on the pitch, the team lived the life of a professional athlete learning tips and pointers from the Bath Rugby squad – one of England’s professional league teams – as well as extensively touring both Twickenham and Millennium Stadiums, two of the largest in the country.

“It was an unbelievable trip,” said fly-half Steve Nelson, a 22-year-old senior computer security and information assurance major from Norwood, Mass. “We were able to learn so much in such a short time and I believe better ourselves as a team.”

“I think the information we learned was better for us than what we could learn in a regular practice,” Nelson continued, highlighting the incredible opportunity to talk one-on-one with professionals.

Sharing fundamental and tactical skill information is clearly an important tradition in rugby. According to Norwich’s England, one of the most critical parts to the game is what’s known as the “third half.” It’s a postgame ritual and celebration where players from opposing sides socialize after the game to recap the match and help each other learn new things to help improve for the next go around.

“The third half is definitely a great way to celebrate rugby’s heritage,” England explained. “It happens whether you win or lose; the game is about making friends, not enemies.”

This upcoming spring break, the team is once again planning on packing its bags and leaving the U.S., this time for the tropical temperatures of Bermuda. It will not be an island vacation: The team is entered in the 2016 Ariel Re Bermuda Sevens, a tournament comprising the top collegiate teams from the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, and various countries throughout the Caribbean.

Sevens is a style of rugby that consists of only seven players instead of the usual 15, and is played in 7-minute halves instead of the standard 40 minutes. Speed and a team’s ability to function without a full roster are the trademarks of Sevens, which results in a more relaxed game as there is less contact compared to a standard match.

“I am extremely excited to get another chance to play internationally,” said sophomore captain and scrum-half Thomas St. Pierre, a 20-year-old criminal justice major from Warwick, R.I. “I can’t wait to see how the Bermuda teams will play.”

Norwich will be the only Division II team entering the tournament among a swath of Division I schools like Notre Dame, Yale, Kutztown and Dartmouth. The competition is of such a high level that Urugby.com predicts the Cadets will come in last place. Despite that, coach Weggler has hope as well as appreciation for all the experience the team will get playing in such tough competition.

“It is definitely going to be a tough tournament,” he said. “I don’t doubt that, but we are going to do the best that we can; we are going to use it as a learning point so we can better ourselves.”

It will be one of the most difficult events the Cadets have yet faced. But they have been tirelessly practicing and with a little luck they might just make a name for themselves among the powerhouses of collegiate rugby. One thing is certain” For Norwich men’s rugby, it’s not your average spring break.

Comments

  1. Andrew Nemethy says:

    The team had a rough first day then the Norwich University men’s rugby team rebounded on Day 2 of the 2016 Ariel Re Bermuda 7s Tournament to win two out of its three matches and finish in 10th place overall out of 12 teams. The Cadets downed St. Joseph’s University (Pa.) 26-5 in their first match of the day behind tries from Keegan Frick, Anthony Candrilli, Austin Manhey and Tom St. Pierre. Frick also added three conversions for NU. Norwich also downed the Yale B side by a score of 20-5 with tries by Candrilli, Eric Pierone, Trevor Surratt and Mark Hill. In NU’s final match of the tournament, the Cadets lost a hard-fought 19-10 match to the Dartmouth B side. Manhey and Candrilli scored tries for Norwich.

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