Underdog men’s rugby overcoming great challenges

The men’s rugby team has proved to be the true underdogs here at FIU. The Panthers start their fall season 1-2 and ranked third out of the seven Florida Cup teams, as well as having to face tough challenges that test their passion for the game on a daily basis.

Rugby is a fast action packed game that lasts 80 minutes. The team is divided into two sections A and B who play a game each match. Each section plays a full game, back to back. The team primarily focuses on 15 man and 7 man rugby.  The players on the field consist of back and forward players. The main goal of the game is to score points by either placing the ball on the turf over the try zone, kicking for points, or penalties.

“I came out on the field and I fell in love with it,” senior captain Kyle Gilbert said. Gilbert began  starting when he was a sophomore and had no prior knowledge of the sport.

There are two seasons in rugby; the fall is considered off-season and the panthers use this time to play against all the Florida teams, such as their top rivals the University of Central Florida Golden Knights and the University of Florida Gators.

The Panthers are starting off the season with a vast majority of new players who still are getting the hang of the game.

“Our team is doing pretty well. We had a rough schedule to start off with. We played University of South Florida, they’re one of the top teams in the state. But the Gators was our toughest challenge,” says Gilbert.

“We got a lot of potential with these new guys, we have some big guys and we have some athletic guys and even though they may not know rugby they have the heart and the passion so that in one or two years they can go to the Select Side, which is a higher division of play in Florida,” junior Agustin Laphitzondo said.

Junior George Evora is the leading scorer this season and he has been invited to try out in several conferences.

Although rugby is not a popular sport in the United States, the players are sure that this sport is for everyone.

“I’ve always liked contact sports and I wanted to join football but, they told me to gain around 100 pounds and maybe they’ll look at me. In rugby you don’t need that. I always say that at heart I’m 250 pounds of pure muscle, and I always go in to every game head first and ready to play,” Laphitzondo said.

Despite the fact that rugby is portrayed as a very aggressive and contact sport, the respect held between teams is like no other. After each game both teams, despite the rivalry, must attend an event called a social. Where the home team hosts a social event in either a party or a restaurant. The A&G Burger Joint near the Modesto A. Maidique campus hosts the socials for the Panthers when they play home, by shutting down the restaurant for both teams.

“The great thing about rugby is that you built so much respect during the game,” junior Luis Echeverry said.

“We eat the best burgers in town, we mix and we put the game video on and acknowledge each other’s plays. We do man of the match, and we sing songs together so it’s become a tradition,“ junior Jose Laphitzondo said. “We’re in a battle for 80 minutes but after that we’re all friends.”

One of the team’s greatest challenges is the funding for the program.

“We only receive around $1,200 dollars to fund our program, which were grateful for, but that only covers registrations for our games,“ says Gilbert.

The team has to pay for transportation, hotels, food and the socials.

“We sometimes have to work around school schedules to be on the games on time. There have been times that one of us had to leave class right away and we had to drive all the way to our game and we got there 15 minutes before the game started,” says A. Laphitzondo, “It’s hard but we always get it done.”

Even though the team is financially weak, they fundraise by working FIU games and are now starting to work some of the Miami Dolphins’ games.

“Just how you push inside the field we have to push outside the field and to do the funding and the practicing,” says J. Laphitzondo.

The panthers do not only play against other schools, but many players get invited to different conferences such as Combine and the South Independent Rugby Conference (SIRC). Last year, five of the players got invited to the Combine, which led three of those players to play for the All-Florida team.

With their long practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays they approach each game confident that they’ll do their best. The panthers take the field on their homecoming game against the University of Miami on Nov. 9th.

1 Comment on "Underdog men’s rugby overcoming great challenges"

  1. Thank you very much for the article! We hope more people can read this and join us to play. Please if you have any question don’t doubt to email me or join our practices tuesdays and thursdays at 6:30 on Intramural Fields.

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