Club rugby team makes nationals

Andrew Baker

The Minnesota menâÄôs club rugby team knows how the Minnesota Twins feel.

In recent years, like the Twins, the rugby team has followed up strong regular seasons with first round post-season exits.

The team qualified for its fifth appearance in six years at the USA Rugby MenâÄôs Division I playoffs, which take place in spring, with a 30-22 win over Wisconsin on Sunday.

The 2011 tournament will be the fourth for fifth-year senior and team captain Sam Augspurger.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to have to show up,âÄù Augspurger said when asked what his team will need to do to move past the first round for the first time.

Each year, 16 teams qualify for the national playoffs.

California and Brigham Young University dominate at the college level and have faced each other in five of the last six championship games.

Of course, cold-weather teams like the Gophers are at a bit of a disadvantage.

While schools from warmer states play from January to May, the Gophers must play during the fall, which 10th-year head coach Loren Lemke said puts them at a disadvantage at nationals in the spring.

âÄúIt gets really hard to go play in the round of 16 in the spring,âÄù Lemke said, âÄúbecause the last two times we were there weâÄôve been outside one day [before the tournament], and so itâÄôs hard to work on everything you need to do, and since we only really get the Field House for practicing âĦ itâÄôs hard to get up to playing real-speed rugby that quick.âÄù

Last year Bowling Green, one of MinnesotaâÄôs biggest rivals, knocked the Gophers out of contention for nationals in a 35-28 loss that ended on an interception.

âÄúSo last spring we just had to play exhibition games since we didnâÄôt have nationals,âÄù Augspurger said.

âÄúSo obviously [the games] kind of meant something, but itâÄôs not the same as pursuing a national title, so definitely [it left] a bitter taste in the mouth and [weâÄôre going to] use that to motivate and go out and try to get back to it this year.âÄù

Asked whether rugby players really are tougher than their football counterparts, Augspurger was less militant than some of his sportâÄôs enthusiasts but still answered yes.

âÄúI get this question all the time,âÄù Augspurger said, laughing, âÄúand actually the two sports are too different to even compare. But obviously being that IâÄôm a college rugby player, IâÄôll be biased and say that rugbyâÄôs the tougher sport.âÄù

While there is no professional rugby in the U.S., club teams abound for players who want to continue with the sport after college. The highest level of club competition is the Rugby Super League, which has two teams in Chicago, the closest to the Twin Cities.

Augspurger, a mechanical engineering student, said he would consider making a run at the Super League but that rugby will not take precedence over his career goals after college.

Rugby is a Division I club sport at the University of Minnesota and first became a sport here in 1885. After a nearly 80-year hiatus beginning in 1890, rugby was reintroduced as a club sport in 1969.

The team practices at the softball fields adjacent to the Law School on the West Bank and plays its home games on the St. Paul campus at the soccer fields across from the recreation center.

No one is cut from the team, and every player gets playing time in every game.