Rugby World Comes to Belmont for Matchup Between HS Champions

Photo: Coach Greg Bruce with the team on Monday.

Greg Bruce, the head coach of the Belmont Rugby Club, said Wednesday night’s meeting between the two best high school XV (indicating 15 players) in New England east of Hartford is special enough that the New England Rugby Referee Society is sending a pair of assistant referees/touch judges along with the game referee. 

“We only see that for the big games,” a smiling Bruce told the Belmontonian after a particularly muddy practice on Monday, March 30.

In the most anticipated matchup of the regular season, Belmont hosts arch-rival Bishop Hendricken High School from Warwick, RI in a rematch of the past two Division 1 Massachusetts State champions. (Bishop Hendricken plays in Massachusetts due to the lack of competition in the Island State.) 

The game will take place at 7:30 p.m. on the Harris Field which is adjacent to the “Skip” Viglirolo Skating Rink on Concord Avenue.

In May 2013, Belmont took its first Div. 1 state championships, 17-5, over the Hawks while Hendricken defeated Belmont, 21-19, last year in a match where BRC twice was within five meters of scoring a five-point “try” (the equivalent of a touchdown) in the dying minutes of the game.


“I would say at this stage of the season it is the one everyone is looking forward to,” said Bruce. 

The match is the second of the season for Belmont, having shutout by a wide margin the Div. 2 squad from Lincoln-Sudbury High this past Friday, March 27.

But for Bruce, the celebration of that win needed to be replaced with preparation for this next match.


“You have to get Lincoln-Sudbury out of your minds,” said Bruce in a post-practice huddle with the team.

“What I need you to do is start thinking about Bishop Hendricken, the challenge that lays before you is what you are going to do to help your brothers and sister [senior Rashunda Webb plays with the boys] to get the most out of this team collectively because it won’t be individual effort that will win this game,” said Bruce. 

That collective approach to the game breeds a sense of family developed in the mud and grind that has created not just another outstanding team in Belmont but has established a culture of rugby in the school and increasingly town-wide. The team was established just eight years ago in 2007 and it began playing competitively for the past seven.


“In the first year we had 20 tough hooligans who came out so they could take each others heads off and they were all best friends!” he said

“But little by little, we began growing and started winning and than other kids wanted a taste of that success,” said Bruce.

A big advantage in creating this atmosphere is that along with Bruce, many of the coaches – all long-time players themselves in college and with area teams – are teachers at the high school, checking up on the players in the halls and drumming up interest.

“They have a deep love for the game and they all ended up in Belmont,” said Bruce. 

In addition, from day one, the involvement of the parents and supporters “has been amazing,” he said. 

The team is the most diverse sports team at the school, with the large number of players of different races, cultures and nationalities such as French and Chilean. 

“We don’t say no to anyone,” said Bruce. “And when you don’t say no and the ethos of this game is community and working together … and when you bring that to a place where kids are looking for something to belong to, the rest takes care of itself,”

That feeling of belonging is certainly felt by the students.

“It’s a game like no other,” said senior captain and scrumhalf Darren Chan.

“The comradery, the brotherhood, the amazing coaches we have with this program, they all make a huge difference where Belmont is today,” Chan said.



In Classic Match, Belmont High Rugby Falls Short in State Championship

The Belmont Way.

It’s playing the game of rugby in which players are “willing to make that ultimate effort, to play for your teammates,” said Greg Bruce, the head coach of the Belmont High School Rugby Club on a humid and warm Saturday, May 24 at Fort Deven minutes before the start of the Div. 1 state championship finals.

“There’s nothing left to say, boys. Total commitment, no excuses. Give everything you’ve got for something greater than you,” Bruce told his starting 15 in the pre-game huddle before another titanic clash with their familiar rival from Bishop Hendricken High School of Warwick, RI in a rematch of last year’s final in which Belmont defeated the Hawks, 17-5.

“Ready to do it?” he asked in his usual measured, almost serene manner.

“Yes, sir,” was the response.

And they were ready.

For more than 90 minutes, the two evenly-matched sides battled to utter exhaustion in a battle of wills and strength that bordered on an ancient epic struggle where the brute determination within the scrum was matched by wild, poetic downfield runs.

With the repeated challenge, “Come on, boys!” echoing from the sidelines, Belmont would overcame a two-try deficit and scored three times in the beginning of the final half.

Yet a pair of Belmont forays deep into Hendricken’s end in the final five minutes could not break the try (goal) line resulting in a 21-19 defeat which was praised by observers and fans of both teams as one of the great contests played by teams from New England in recent history.

“You gave it your all. We were down, we had (penalties), the odds against us, goal-line stances and you fought all the way back. Someone had to win. There was no shame in your effort,” said Bruce after the game to the team.

“Boys, you don’t get any better by playing the weak teams. That was a tough side and your all much better players for playing that game,” said assistant coach Derek Tommy.

“To see the level of play since we started the program eight years ago is impressive, not just with us but throughout the region,” Bruce told the Belmontonian after the game.

Belmont faced an uphill battle for nearly the entire match as only 90 seconds into the game, Hendricken revealed a mismatch down the left wing as a Hawk player reached the corner and sprinted more than 50 meters on a solo run for the first try of the day.

“That’s not exactly how we hoped to come out of the gates,” said Bruce.

It soon became apparent that Hendrickson would use their considerable bulk and strength advantages to punish the inside of Belmont’s forwards. Time and again, Hendricken players would drive into the heart of Belmont’s front line rather than push to the outside wings where Belmont had the edge with speed. Belmont was hurting its own cause with dropped passes and penalties allowing Hendricken to dictate how the game was played.

Just short in the second half 

On three separate occasions in the half, a Hendricken player broke through the Belmont defense to sprint towards goal only to be met by junior wing Luke Perrotta who made a trio of sensational solo tackles.

“He saved us in the first half,” said Bruce, noting the day before, Perrotta had asked him to stay behind after practice to work on open-field tackling.

“And to see him transfer the skill [during the game] that right now the hairs on my neck are standing up because I am so proud of him,” said Bruce.

Hendrickson’s second try came after a dubious play as a Hawk hit a prone senior open side flanker Dom Owens-Moore with a forearm that caused the ball to be taken deep in Belmont’s end that was pushed beyond the goal line.

Belmont began pushing forward into the Hawks end with senior Barrett Lyons carrying several Hendricken backs for nearly 30 meters on a memorable run down the opponent’s gut and captain Nick Pearson driving down the exposed wing.

Down 14 -0 at the half, Bruce quietly urged his team to ignore the score and take control of the game.

“It came down to the team’s mental focus, their ability to adjust and rally around one another,” said Bruce.

“They had a look across the 15 of them that they would not let this game be over.”

Bruce praised two long-time players, Darren Chan and Paul Campbell who, as halfbacks, are like the “quarterbacks” of the team, as they withstood the constant Hawk pressure in moving the balls around the pitch.

Winning the possession game from a tiring Hendricken squad allowed Belmont to push into the Hawks territory. Eleven minutes into the half, Belmont drove the ball over the try line for the first points with Campbell securing the conversion to make the score 14-7. A yellow card penalty to a strong Hendricken player allowed Belmont to secure the momentum which allowed Campbell to sneak across for a second trying in seven minutes to reduce the lead to 14-12.

But due to the try being made near the sideline, the conversion kick was at a very acute angle which Campbell barely missed.

Garnering a second wind, Hendricken quickly drove down the field for their only try of the second half to up their lead to 21-12.

With Belmont’s third try coming within the final 10 minutes to once again reduce the advantage to two, 21-19, it appeared that team would not have a chance to get close to scoring as they were left to defend their try line after another Hendricken drive. But stellar defense forced a turnover and Belmont drove down the pitch highlighted by a 40 meter dash from Pearson.

Yet that final try never came as Belmont was pushed out-of-bounds in the “red” zone and Owens-Moore was held up inside five meters of the try-line in the final five minutes. As the final whistle sounded, the two teams had little energy to celebrate or suffer defeat, leaving everything on the pitch.

“We were there. We had the chances but unfortunately we just couldn’t get over the try line. You really have to credit Bishop Hendricken, they are a hell of a team. We have lost three times in two years, each time to them,” Bruce said.

When asked who stood out in the game, Bruce said, “who didn’t?”

“These kids gave everything they had. The big thing we talked about to them as coaches (himself, Tommy, Jesse Borle and Adam Zilcoski) of coming to this game was a total commitment with no regrets. And I know right now they have no regrets. These kids committed themselves completely, to give very thing they had.”

“You saw them coming off the field, completely gutted, tanks empty. What else can you ask for from a bunch of 16, 17, 18 year olds? I’m really proud of them.”


Belmont Rugby’s Championship Game Starts at 2:30 PM Saturday

After defeating Boston College High on Tuesday, May 20, to advance for the second straight year to the Division 1 Mass. Youth Rugby Organization state championship game, the Belmont High School Rugby Club just needed to know two things as they prepared to meet Warwick, RI’s Bishop Hendricken High School in the finals.

Where and when.

And now the team knows.

The rematch of last year’s championship game, which Belmont won, 17-5, will be held at Fort Devens State Park on the “Antietam Field” Saturday, May 24 with the kickoff set for 2:30 p.m.

Admission is free so come and support the boys as they defend their title.

Fort Devens is about 25 miles from Belmont. The good news is that the location is off Route 2 so the trip is quite easy to make. Get on Route 2 westbound until Exit 37B which becomes Jackson Road. Stay on Jackson until you reach the intersection of Antietam Street. Take a left and the field is in front of you.

Belmont Rugby To Host State Semi-Final on Tuesday, May 20

After a stellar 7-1 regular season, the Belmont High School Club Rugby team begins the defense of its Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization’s Division 1 state championship title as it plays host to Boston College High School in one of the two semi-final matches to determine the participants in this year’s championship game on Saturday, May 24 at Fort Devens State Park.

The Belmont XV will take the pitch at Harris Field off of Concord Avenue at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20. On a bitter, rain-swept night late last month, Belmont’s ruggers defeated the Eagles, 31-5.

Admission to the semi’s is free so come see some of the best High School rugby in the nation.