by MATTHEW BOVA
As rugby gains popularity in the US, the UMW Men’s Rugby team continues to recruit talent from around the world in order to compete against some of the top college teams in the country.
According to the players, good US rugby teams benefit from international players.
“It just helps to bring in a group of players that have more experience in rugby, like the American players, they’ve played a lot of football, [and] basketball so they’re good athletes,” said Jack Levine, a senior international affairs major from Sheffield, England. According to the current roster, the team has seven international students from the British Isles. These members not only play a pivotal role in the team’s games, but they also help mentor American players who haven’t been playing in the game for as long.
Adam Thompson, a 2020 graduate from Aberdeen, Scotland, explained, “The majority of foreigners who play rugby have had a ball in their hands from a very young age, and there’s a lot of skills to be learned … and then you get the Americans coming in who stereotypically pick up the sport much later because it’s such a fringe sport in the United States. So they might not pick it up until late middle school or high school, and there’s guys who don’t start until they come to Mary Washington.”
Thompson was part of the first group of international recruits for the team. He signed up with a talent agency that helped him apply to schools in America and take the SATs, and eventually chose UMW after an email exchange with Tim Brown, a team alumnus.
He and other students said they found it difficult at first to adapt to American universities, especially in the earlier years. “When I first came [to UMW], it was me and four other [international] guys who unfortunately didn’t make it all the way through. When it came to the end of my first semester, I didn’t know I had to pick my classes for the next semester… so when people started talking to me about having time to pick my next classes, I was like ‘What do you mean?’” said Thompson. He has since helped other international players adapt to life at UMW, and the school has also stepped in to help through the Center for International Education.
Aidan Gallagher, junior biology major, was recruited differently. After moving from Western Ireland to North Carolina in high school, he appeared in several articles by the Goff Rugby Report and was subsequently contacted by Tim Brown.
The rugby team was the 2017-2018 D1AA Champions, and it remains a top competitor in its division.
UMW is not the only school that recruits internationally for rugby. “Most of the higher level programs we compete against will have a similar mixture of Americans and international players,” said Joseph Ritter, a junior art history major. UMW has an exceptional number of international rugby students compared to other schools in Virginia, according to the players.
Peter Smith, a junior economics major from Lestischier, England, has been running the recruitment process for an incoming group of international rugby players. The process is similar to his own recruitment. Using a talent agency called First Point USA, he is able to recruit through a database of a player’s records as an athlete and student. Gallagher wrote out a message to be sent out to any player who the team believes meets its needs. Once the potential recruit responds, they can begin to work with the student and encourage them to apply to the school.
“So there’s players from England, Ireland, Scotland, a couple [of players] from Wales but not many, South Africans, Australians, New Zealand, a couple [of players] who [live] in Dubai. There’s a couple players from [continental] Europe, but not many,” said Smith.
According to Smith, the team has confirmed nine new international recruits from Scotland, England, Ireland, and Dubai so far and is continuing to work with potential recruits in Australia and New Zealand.