Since 1963, the Fairfield University rugby club has been an organization built on a unique balance of athleticism, integrity and kinship. The men’s rugby club participates in the Division IA Liberty Conference which is the highest division in collegiate ruby while the women’s team, established in 1994, plays at a Division II level in the Trio-State Rugby Conference. Most recently, the women celebrated their 25th anniversary on campus. They also gained national exposure for their excellence this past season when they reached the Sweet Sixteen National Championships and ranked ninth in the country. Members of the 2018 women’s team were inducted into the Friends of Fairfield Rugby Hall of Honor for their outstanding achievements.
Director of rugby, Tom O’Connor ’75, has watched the program evolve since he began his time as a Red Rugger in 1971. “Oakie”, as he was nicknamed back in the 70’s by his teammates, compared the values of his sport to those that Fairfield University upholds as a Jesuit institution. He explained, “rugby follows very closely to the Jesuit ideals of mind, body and spirit. You can’t be a group of rugby players unless you play as a team.”
With 15 players on the pitch during game-play, rugby athletes are forced to constantly work with each other to reach common goals and find success. Such reliance on each other creates an unparalleled fellowship between those who play the game.
O’Connor described the special camaraderie that Fairfield rugby players shared.
He explained, “If you’re a rugby player you do embody those jesuit ideals of mind, body and spirit. The friends that you make on a rugby pitch are the friends you make for life.”
Oakie’s passion for the sport as an alumnus is shared by the ever-growing Friends of Fairfield Rugby non-profit alumni association made up of over 2,000 members who passionately support the program.
“As a board member of the Friends of Fairfield rugby, we live vicariously through our student athletes where we support them in every way through internships and career opportunities… we as alumni understand what it takes to be a rugby player,” explained O’Connor.
As a result of their monetary contributions, for the first time ever the ruggers were welcomed to participate in the strength and conditioning program at the Thomas J. Walsh, Jr. Athletic Center alongside Fairfield’s varsity athletic programs.
Off the field, the players are making waves as well-rounded members of the Fairfield community. For the first time in program history, the men moved in early for pre-season workouts and split their time serving Fairfield’s incoming freshman class by helping them move in. Additionally, they are scheduled to travel to Spain and parts of France in January to not only play but also do community service. In the classroom, the Stags excel just as much. 18 Fairfield Rugby players were recognized on the 2018-19 USA Rugby Collegiate Academic Honor Roll List. Of 200 honorees representing over 50 schools nationwide, Fairfield had the most student-athletes awarded from a single institution.
Under the leadership of O’Connor in conjunction with that of moderator Friar Michael Doody, coaches Austin Ryan, Marc Downes and Sal Esposito of the men’s team as well as Jack Wallace and Eric Anahory on the women’s end, the program as a whole is set at an upwards trajectory. Incredible progress in the ruggers’ style of play has already been made obvious to the director.
On Sunday, Oct. 27 the women’s team faced the University of Albany in the Division II quarterfinals of the Trio-State Rugby Conference and won 38-14. They are slated to take on Marist College next week on Sunday, Nov. 3 in the semifinals at 11:00 a.m. on Lt. Hans Grauert Memorial Field, on the school’s grounds. It is the first of its kind built solely for rugby on an American college campus. The men are scheduled to face the University of Rhode Island at home on Saturday, Nov. 2 before their playoff thrust at the Liberty Conference Bowl Semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 9.
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