The Fairfield University men’s rugby club has had an eventful winter break following a remarkable 2019 fall season of Division 1-A Rugby. D1A Rugby, which is administered by the United States of America Rugby Football Union, is the highest level of college rugby in the United States. The Red Ruggers wrapped up autumn play sitting in third place of the Liberty Conference in the New England Division. Fairfield’s 5-4 record with 29 points set them just behind Northeastern University (9-0) who accrued 42 points during their undefeated run and Boston College (6-2) who had 31 points to the season.
Three athletes, namely Joe DeCaro ‘20, Nick Lapponese ‘23 and Andrew Pearl ‘20 received All-Conference honors for their formidable performances on the rugby field.
DeCaro earned D1A Rugby First-Team All-Conference accolades for his well-rounded style of play. As a senior on the team, he fought to earn himself a spot on Fairfield’s Premier team. He demonstrated his dedication to his teammates over the summer during the pre-season when he pushed his limits as an athlete to improve in the sport through participation in two training camps with other Red Ruggers. DeCaro was asked earlier this year to adapt to a new position on the pitch as a prop/front row player, a change from his usual role as a flanker. He welcomed the change and flourished as a ruthless player on the attack. He averaged 68 minutes on the field per match, and his rapid evolution from an inconsistent player to a key body on the roster is a testament to the idea that passion and hard work can yield palpable results.
Rookie rugger Lapponese was named to the Second-Team as an All-Conference player after he made waves during his premier campaign as a college-level competitor. He left behind a commendable career at home as the captain of Pelham High School’s rugby club, but came to Fairfield looking to prove himself on the national level. Lapponese possesses versatile skills which allowed him to take on two different positions during the 2019 push, playing both lock, which enforced the power of the scrum, and 8-man as a forward.
Pearl earned an All-Conference Honorable Mention for his leadership and extraordinary senior season. The wing/fullback averaged a whopping 12 points per game and finished the season with a total of 125 points.
“Andrew magnanimously embodies the Jesuit motto ‘man for others.’ He never seeks reward or fame, and always puts the team’s interests before his own,” said head coach Austin Ryan.
Additionally, 24 members of the rugby club traveled to Barcelona, Spain and Pontpellier, France for a six day rugby tour from Jan. 9 to Jan. 14 where they broke even overseas with one win and one loss. During their time in Europe, they also took part in a service opportunity in Barcelona where the men helped run a clinic for the Rugby Club L’Hospitalet, where the Red Ruggers worked on skills with young athletes between the ages of eight and ten years old.
Fairfield’s time in Barcelona came to an end when the men lost to Rugby Club L’Hospitalet’s men’s team on Saturday, Jan. 10, but their focus shifted when they took to Montpellier, France with a chip on their shoulder and a thirst for victory. Next, they faced the Montpellier Business School on Monday, Jan. 13 and managed to come away with a win to take back home. The 25-22 triumph was made possible by the tireless efforts of the entire team, however team captain Luka Heinrich ‘20 stood out in particular for his assertive disposition on the pitch. He was recognized as ‘Man of the Match’ while his teammates Joe Viale ‘22 and Connor Rinklin ‘23 were exceptional in their own right. Viale delivered powerful hits while Rinklin lead the offensive attack. Ultimately, their exertion was enough to upend their French adversaries, but at the sound of the final whistle, the two clubs mingled like old friends. Fairfield presented the Montpellier club’s captain with a Fairfield shirt and ball signed by the whole team after the game as a sign of gratitude and respect.
The trip allowed for Fairfield rugby to immerse themselves into vastly unfamiliar cultures, while putting their differences aside by bonding through the sport that they love. The growth that the men underwent athletically and personally was invaluable, and will surely show on and off the field.