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Rugby's Tradition In English Roots Reaches Engineers

By Chris Townsend and Mike Fife

In 1822, William Webb Ellis, a 16-year-old student at the Rugby school in England, picked up the ball during a soccer match and created the game of rugby.

For over a century, the sport remained strictly amateur, due in part to its connections with the English schools. But the influence of the game has spread far and wide, and modern rugby has become truly international.

During the past 20 years, the traditional northern hemisphere teams (England, France, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) have been consistently outplayed by teams from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, which have developed levels of fitness and skill that have continually set new standards, leading the game into the professional era.

In 1987, 16 nations participated in the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which was won by the home country. Public interest in the event has risen dramatically in the two competitions since then. In 1995, a television audience of 200 million saw South Africa defeat New Zealand in the final in Pretoria, South Africa in front of Nelson Mandela.

Rugby football at MIT has its own distinguished history. There are school records of playing dating back as early as 1882, making the club one of the oldest in the United States. Flourishing membership during the 1950s was a driving force for the development of rugby in New England and led to the establishment of the New England Rugby Football Union, of which MIT is the oldest member.

In 1960, MIT rugby alumni founded the Boston Rugby Football Club, now one of the premier teams in the country. With encouragement from the men's team, the MIT Women's RFC was formed in 1976.

Both the men's and women's teams have had considerable success in competitions on the East Coast. In particular, the men's team is the only college team to ever win the NERFC championship (in 1974). A tradition that started in the mid-1980s is a biannual international tour. England, Wales, France, and Japan have all played host to MIT during the past decade. In return, the club has welcomed teams from Scotland, England, and Canada.

Last season was both bitter and sweet for MIT's men's team. In the fall, the Engineers competed in the challenging New England Club division with hopes of rising to the occasion and increasing their level of play. They were able to hold their own against difficult teams like Worcester and Charles River but were not able to secure any wins. Most disappointing was a three-point loss to the Harvard Business School team.

The men's team made a great comeback in the spring and was undefeated up until the last game against the Boston Rattlers club side. They seemed to draw upon their fall experiences and showed up in force to annihilate Harvard Business School 450.

The squad showed depth in numbers by competing most of the season with several reserve players covering for injured regulars, including team captain Dave Stracher who was out with a broken leg from the second game.

Coming off a near-perfect record in spring play, the Rucking Beavers are excited about scrumming down with some old adversaries this fall.

The highlight of the schedule is the local match against Harvard Business School, which will be looking to avenge its defeat at the hands of MIT last April.

However, MIT is confident about the game. "HBS had nothing but excuses after we crushed them in April," said Coach Stephen Wilhelm. "We don't expect anything different this fall."

All MIT affiliates are welcome to play rugby with the Rucking Beavers. The team caters to both novice and experienced players, regardless of age. For more information contact team captain Jeff Bucci (x3-5701, or visit the team's Web site at