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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rugby

Competition increases as rugby enters new conference


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Now playing against stiffer competition, the rugby team hopes that matches against high-profile schools will help increase the sport’s popularity | Courtesy of UH Rugby

The players of the Cougar rugby team have a chance to make a big splash this upcoming season.

After spending their last several seasons competing in the Southwest Conference, the near-40-year-old club will join the University of Arkansas as the newest members of the Red River Rugby Conference.

The Red River is a Division 1 conference that contains the best teams in the southern U.S. In this league, several of the teams have athletes on scholarships and compete for national titles on a regular basis.

New competition

The Cougars will play a total of eight games against Louisiana State University, the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Texas Christian University. Recent history has not been kind for the Cougars when it comes to facing these teams: The embarrassing non-conference loss against Baylor University last season is a prime example.

The naming of Daniel Whetzel as rugby program’s head coach might be just what they needed to avoid senseless losses.

Both the Cougars and TeShay Flowers, the commissioner of Red River Rugby, see Whetzel as strengthening the club to compete against bigger schools in the conference. Flowers said this coaching change as one of the reasons they accepted UH into Red River Rugby.

An appealing destination

All things considered, the club needs skilled players to be able to field a squad like last seasons.

The Cougars had a smart core of rugby players last year who took them all the way to the conference seven-man championship game — one win away from the national championships. However, these few were not enough to help them get through the fifteens season, as they lost games they clearly should have won.

UH has quickly made itself an appealing place for a rugby player to compete. It is already one of the top regions in the state for producing rugby talent.

Whether at youth clubs like Katy and The Woodlands or high schools such as St. Thomas or Strake Jesuit, more local youth players are learning the game in a competitive environment. Many of these players go on to play rugby at the collegiate level.

Game of the moment

With seven-man rugby one of the new additions in this year’s Olympics, the sport is increasing in popularity.

After 92 years away from the Games, rugby had a great showing, as Fiji claimed their first gold medal in the country’s history. The victory is significant because many people prior to the Olympics might have had no idea what rugby even was.

Sevens is not proper rugby by some standards, as it is seven-men teams playing seven-minute halves opposed to traditional 15-men teams in 40-minute halves. Regardless, having the sport — no matter what version — in the Olympics made people intrigued about rugby.

The Cougars are hoping this newfound popularity might lead to some athletes giving the sport a chance, and see what it is like to play in-person. Coupled with UH rugby’s change of conference and the wealth of talent in the Houston-area, the Cougars should see increased success in the coming seasons.

Joining the Red River may be a tough transition initially, but regardless of the results, the Cougars will prove that they are a competitive team that does not stop fighting until the 80 minutes are up.

Soon, they will earn their right to be in a conference alongside the major universities of the South.

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