The UW-River Falls men’s rugby team is currently ranked No. 16 in the country in the National Small College Rugby Organization.
The rugby team won their division, the River Bluffs, in the fall while finishing second overall in the Minnesota Rugby Football Union conference. The team won five of its six games, including playoffs. Their lone loss was to St. John’s University, the eventual national champion.
In the spring semester things change for the rugby team. They play in tournaments as opposed to conference games, which are held in the fall. The way the game is played is also different.
“The way it’s been, in fall we play with 15 (players),” said president and captain of the team Casey Doten. “In the spring we are switching over to sevens rugby, like what they do in the Olympics. It is more wide open.”
Doten said that the challenges in switching to sevens rugby consist of being able to continually play well with half of the players on the field. He added that sevens is also faster action and probably more fun to watch.
The team has played in two tournaments this spring.
On April 6-7 the team participated in the Battle on the Nebraska Plain Rugby Tournament which annually draws 80-90 teams. UWRF finished in third place at the tournament.
On April 13 the team played in UW-Stout’s rugby tournament which featured Stout, UWRF, UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse. UWRF emerged victorious in the tournament.
Doten said that the team will play in one more tournament on May 4 at Simpson College.
He added that the winner of this tournament will qualify for the Div. III national championships. The national championships will be held early June.
On May 11 the team will play their alumni game at Hoffman Park. The alumni game is also the team’s last game of the season.
Despite the recent successes of the team, they are not guaranteed to be in existence every single year. Doten said that being a club sport does not give the club a sense of permanence.
“If we don’t get enough people or funding we could go from being ranked No. 16 to being nonexistent,” Doten said.
The rugby team received $3,934.51 for their budget next year. This budget will cover the cost of being a member of the Minnesota Rugby Football Union conference as well as being recognized by the national rugby union. Additional money will go toward a trainer as well as goal posts.
Another challenge Doten said the team faces is getting people involved with the club. The team starts practices almost immediately in the fall, which leaves them little time to find fresh faces for the team.
“We kind of go around and find people who look like they could be rugby players,” Doten said.
This year the team had 38 players on its roster.
Doten also said getting fans to watch the game can sometimes be difficult because most people do not understand rugby and “people get us confused with lacrosse sometimes.”
Doten will be president and captain of the team again next year as well. He also added that he plans on continuing playing rugby after he leaves UWRF.
Doten said that there are a lot of men’s rugby teams which are always looking for players.
“As long as my body holds up, I will play as long as I can,” Doten said.
The rugby team plays its home games at the intramural fields at UWRF. More information of the team can be found on their official website, riverfallsrugby.com.