Furman Rugby Club History

The inception of the Furman Rugby Club actually began on St. Patrick's Day in 1997. After a storied day of rugby during the famed St. Patrick's Day Rugby Tournament in Savannah, Ga., two Greenville Griffin teammates (one a Furman student Marc Roberts, the other a Furman employee, John Roberts) mused one evening about the possibility of starting a rugby team at Furman. Other schools in the area (USC, Clemson, App. State and Davidson) had teams, so why not Furman?

Well the idea remained just that, an idea, for the next nine months until plaguing injuries and family commitments forced John to consider retiring from rugby as a full time player. Unwilling to give up the sport he had played for 13 years, John began considering coaching as an option. Subsequently, Marc and John organized a meeting for anyone on the campus interested in forming a team. The December Meeting attracted 10 male students, mostly freshmen and sophomores. A follow-up meeting was scheduled and a tentative practice schedule approved.

Shortly after Christmas break, the Furman men's club held its first practice beside Paladin Stadium with about 25 students taking part. After just two weeks of practice, Danielle Snoddy, a freshman from Lousiville, Ky., queried John about the possibility of forming a women's team as well.

Though skeptical at first (John initially didn't think the undergraduate population at Furman would support a women's team) he agreed to coach the team if there was enough interest. Danielle and some others showered the campus with posters advertising the new club and an organizational meeting was held. The response was overwhelming-35 girls showed.

In mid-February, the Furman men and women held their first joint practice with more than 50 students taking part. Though excited about the turnout, John was overwhelmed and issued a cry for help, imploring his Greenville teammates to help share the coaching duties. Mark "Haywood" Sullivan and "The Mighty" Joe Young responded.

With three coaches, instruction at practices (every Monday and Wednesday) became more individualized. By mid-March the teams were progressing nicely while preparing for their only game of the season-a March 27 double header against the USC women's and men's squads in Columbia.

Playing under the lights on a Friday night at Blatt PE field (the same field John roamed as an undergraduate at USC) Furman held its inaugural games. In the first game, the women's team took the fight to USC and actually led 7-5 when Paige Rawson scored the first try for Furman Rugby on a 15 yard run early in the first half. But, as expected, experience won over and USC eventually prevailed 35-13.

In the men's game, Furman fought valiantly, trailing just 13-0 at the break. The men came close to scoring on several occasions but were turned back by a USC team anxious to shut-out the all-rookie squad. Furman played the Gamecocks even for the first 15 minutes of the second half. However, as fatigue set in, the larger USC team wore down the Paladins and scored several late tries to take the victory 35-0.

Buoyed by their success in the first games (by not getting blown out by two long-standing rugby programs with winning records), the Furman rugby team left Columbia feeling good.

With a firm foundation set, the rugby teams went on to have great success during their inaugural season in 1998-99. The men's club completed the fall and spring season with a 12-1 record and outscored its opponents 176-21. The season ended on a down note as the men lost to Elon College in the North Carolina Division II championship game. The women tallied a 5-1 record this spring after posting a 1-3 record in the fall.

In May 1999, at the Furman University club sports banquet, Furman coach John Roberts thanked his players, coaches and presented a speech that summarized the first season of Furman rugby.


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