March 15, 2016
Rich Daniels, president of the Illinois men’s rugby team, circled April 2, 9 and 16 on his calendar once the season schedule was set.
Those three seven-on-seven tournament dates will decide
whether the team will receive an invitation to the Collegiate Rugby Championships in
Philadelphia in June. Michigan and Indiana, two powerhouses in the Big Ten, already
received their invitations, leaving one open spot from the Big Ten. With a healthier team this spring, the Illinois men’s rugby team is poised to make some noise.
The rugby team plays two kinds of rugby: seven-on-seven and 15-on-15.
Sevens include seven-minute halves with seven players from each team on the field.
The seven-on-seven game has a faster pace than 15s. It also leaves more space on the field because of the
fewer number of players, placing a greater emphasis on players’ conditioning.
15s have 40-minute halves with 15 players on each team. It is critical for players to have good strength and technique with less field space and an increase of players on the field.
Sevens is considered the more serious level in the spring because it is sanctioned by the
Big Ten. 15s is sanctioned by the conference in the fall.
Coming off an 8-4 season, the team had a successful but injury-filled season.
“After the first game, we never really had a full lineup of everyone we needed,” said Senior Mario Lozano. “We had to throw some of the newer guys, they got some good experiences out of it which helps prepare them for this season.”
The team’s 8-2 record was meaningless heading into the Big Ten Championship tournament. The Illini dropped two straight games to Michigan and Michigan State, ending their season.
“Even though we had the second-best record in the conference, we took sixth place overall,” Daniels said.
Daniels is confident that the team will improve this season, especially with most of the
key players returning healthy.
One exception is senior captain Matt Ramsey, who has to sit out this season due to a
Although Ramsey may not be a contributor on the field this season, he is making an
impact on the team by serving as a student-coach for the seven-on-seven team.
Ramsey also served as a student-coach last season when he was fully healthy. However,
his injury gives him an opportunity to coach full-time.
“It’s actually much easier now to only coach, compared to having to coach and play,” Ramsey said. “It
gives you a much different perspective of the team.”
Ramsey said that he has to distance himself from his players. He said this
transition was difficult, but he wants to push his players
harder and correct errors they make.
“Last year I would have to make mental notes of what to correct for specific players and
then give feedback at the next dead ball,” Ramsey said. “But now I can pull them off to the side and nip it in the bud.”
Lozano said that having Ramsey look over the team is critical for their tournament preparation.
“He has been putting guys through pretty rigorous workouts and really preparing the
team for this season.” Daniels said. “He’s been really on top of his game.”
The Illini began their season yesterday with dominant performances from multiple players in the
Whiskey 10’s Rugby Tournament. The Illini brought two teams to the tournament: an A team, featuring older and more experienced players, and a B team.
The A Team won the tournament convincingly, scoring a total of 165 points while
allowing just five points. Each game had a winning margin of at least 30 points.
“We were a little shaky at first, but once we got our groove going, we were unstoppable,”
Senior Mario Lozano went down in the first game with a tweaked hamstring, causing the team
to move a few people into different positions. Some players were forced to switch positions
on the fly but handled the changes well.
Lozano returned in time for the finals and was able to help the team secure the
The B Team played Eastern Illinois, Elmhurst College, and Illinois State University A
Team. They only lost to Illinois State but were unable to advance to the semifinals.
The Illini will have three weeks of rest before they begin league play against a strong Ohio State
team on April 2.