Although it may be better known as a shirt style, the sport of rugby continues to grow in popularity at Fairfield University.

So far this season, the men’s club rugby team has had a banner year.

In fact, this fall the team performed well enough to advance to the postseason for the first time in 12 years.

Late season wins over Iona and Sacred Heart were enough to propel them into the Metropolitan New York Rugby Football Union playoffs. The Stags lost to Rutgers in the first round.

“Although we were unable to make it past the first round, it was still an incredibly rewarding feeling. I could not have been more proud of our team,” said senior forward and captain Joe Christino.

The club rugby team was formed in 1963 and, in its 45th year, is Fairfield’s longest-running club sport. The history of the program is very important to the players and keeps the alumni actively involved.

“The alumni are still very heavily involved and we still hold an alumni game every fall where many past graduates attend and play with current players,” said Christino. “Tradition has always been a part of rugby and this is especially true with our club.”

Jason Bertoli ’08 said, “Alumni are a huge part of Fairfield Rugby and their constant support fuels the entire program.”

Alumni stay involved in more ways than just fan support and a yearly alumni game.

Every four years, the alumni help to fund a Spring Break trip for the team to somewhere in the world where rugby is prominent.

In March, the team went to the Bahamas, where the Stags were hosted by a Nassau club team. The teams played twice before Fairfield had the opportunity to watch the team compete in a playoff game.

“We had an amazing time in the Bahamas, and we were able to bond with some of our younger teammates we didn’t know as much,” said Jeff Littell ’08.

Getting to know younger teammates has been critical in continuing the rich tradition of Fairfield club rugby. On this year’s 52-man roster, 28 are underclassmen, including 19 freshmen.

Keeping these young players actively interested and involved has been one of the many responsibilities that Christino has handled this year.

“This year, Joe has done a great job in leading by example. He played a key role in dealing with the administration to make sure the season ran smoothly, as well as displaying a relentless attitude, whether it be in games or practices,” said Bertoli.

Christino was not alone in making sure that the season went smoothly, as the rugby team has a clear hierarchy of power including a president and vice president.

At the top, though, is the team’s coach.

The club rugby team’s first-year head coach is Matt Leonard, who played rugby at Fairfield as an undergraduate. Leonard has done a great job of connecting to his players and fostering a sense of camaraderie among the team.

“Coach Leonard really cares about the team and it shows both in practice and in the games. He loves rugby and really devotes a lot of his time to the team to make us successful,” said Bertoli. “I think that has been evident based on our constant growth, development and overall achievements.”

The spring season is underway and the club team is 2-0.

Team members have a great time on and off the field. They love their coach and all emphasize their undying love for the sport. Even if the sport seems confusing, it is easy to learn and easy to get involved.

“I joined the team when I came here as a freshman having no prior experience with the sport. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made,” said Christino. “I was able to learn a new game that turned out to be unbelievably fun and competitive.

“It also gave me the opportunity to meet and befriend an incredible group of guys that will no doubt be lifelong friends of mine,” Christino added.

Fairfield’s longest running club sport continues to grow and prosper.

“Some of my closest friends at this school have been because of rugby. I still talk to many of the rugby guys who have already graduated, and consider them good friends,” said Bertoli. “Rugby is a sport where you can be anywhere in the world, meet someone who plays and immediately be treated as part of their club.”

The rugby team takes the field next on Friday night at 5 p.m. at the rugby field, against Yale.

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