For the first time, Western's men's rugby team has hired full-time coaches funded by Western rugby alumni, Paul Horne, director of rugby and head 15’s coach said.
Horne played rugby for Western in the 70’s, and has coached several teams since, including the Canadian national rugby team.
Western rugby has been a student and volunteer-organized club sport on campus since 1957, and this year, the team looks to really contend.
"There’s something indoctrinated in those kids,” Head 7's coach Adam Roberts said. “They have so much passion and enthusiasm for everything you throw [their way]."
Last year, for the first time, the team went to nationals and finished in 13th place.
“We surprised the hell of ourselves when we went to nationals,” Roberts said. “[We competed] against the biggest and the best and made a name for ourselves.”
Roberts coaches the 7's, where seven players are on the field during the fall season. The 15's, coached by Horne, places 15 players on the field and play during the spring.
Coaches Horne and Roberts share a special connection. Horne used to be Roberts’ coach. Roberts said it is a “dream come true” to coach beside Horne at the university level, and the group they have will make for a special experience.
Senior player Gavri Grossman, who graduates this fall, said he thinks the team has a shot at a championship.
“I’m really grateful I’ll be able to finish my rugby career at Western with a trip to nationals — if we make it that far," Grossman said.
The 7’s National Championship is in December at Texas A&M University.
Junior player Patrick Phelps said he expects the team to go to nationals this year because most of the starting roster from last year didn’t graduate. In addition, he said, the new freshmen recruits are extremely talented.
Grossman agreed the new players are talented. Several new recruits played in Canada, or were recruited by the national team to play at national team camps.
“It’s incredible,” Grossman said. “It’s really foreshadowing where this team is heading.”
Horne said the coaches have goals in place to play some of the best rugby teams in the country in the next few years, as well as to eventually become a varsity sport.
Becoming a varsity sport would help the team acquire better funding, more accessibility to fields, doctors and trainers and allow them to recruit better players by offering scholarships, Roberts said. Western has been very supportive of the rugby program, he said.
Although upgrading to varsity status would help, it isn’t Horne’s primary concern.
“Varsity status doesn’t always determine the strength of a program,” he said.
Oregon State University won the league tournament last year as a club team and still plays against schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, where rugby is a varsity sport, he said.
Roberts said changing the future for the sport at Western begins with recruiting new talent, building a foundation and setting a culture early. This process began this year when the new coaches were hired. With a new coaching staff in place, the team can begin recruiting new players much earlier.
“It’s a new era for Western rugby,” Horne said.