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.