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Column: Heralding the home team: A rugby alumnus explains SJU’s success

Last weekend in Glendale, Colo., the Saint John’s University rugby team beat Duke 31-16 to become DIII national champions. As a proud alumnus of the team, I feel honor-bound to break down exactly why this happened.

First, Head Coach Tammy Cowan is one of the best in the country. She largely shuns the drill sergeant attitude that so many coaches, particularly football coaches, adopt, although most players are familiar with her “yelling voice,” myself especially.

During practices, questions can be freely asked and mistakes are learning opportunities rather than an excuse to run wind sprints.  It’s one of the big reasons I decided to play for the largely unheralded rugby team rather than John Gagliardi’s nationally-recognized football program at SJU.

Second, the team itself is filled with ballers. Most rugby players in the U.S. are athletes who were either too far down on the depth chart or too socially awkward to fit in with other teams, and I, as a fat kid with no social filter, include myself in both categories.

Thanks to Tammy’s influence and the growth of the sport in general, the current team is filled with athletes whose background is nothing but rugby. This means they have an instinct for the game that other teams often sorely lack.

Watching former football players and wrestlers try to run an offense can be painful, but watching actual, pure-bred rugby players do it can be magnificent, and St. John’s has one of the best offenses in the country as a result.

Third, they are excellent revelers. It’s customary in rugby for the home team to host the away team for a “social” (which one might mistake for a “kegger”) after a match, rather than send them off with a few “warm up the bus” chants.

A team that wins every match but fails to show up to socials is a .500 team at best. One of the biggest factors in Saint John’s success is their ability to win any social, no matter the odds.

Put succinctly: SJU rugby has one of the best coaches, many of the best players, and thus wins consistently on and off the field.

The national championship on Sunday was no accident.