The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Rugby: Tackling the odds

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chris Harrington loves hitting people.

After growing up in London and learning how to play rugby, the senior Notre Dame Rugby Club captain and scrum half has been running roughshod over and through opponents for the past eight years. But tackling his biggest challenge has taken place off of the pitch – earning club status for his team.

The history of the Notre Dame Rugby Football Club is a long and colorful one, filled with nearly as many shenanigans as hard hits.

“Some of the old teams from back in the ’80s and ’90s had gotten into a lot of trouble with the University,” Harrington said in an e-mail Sunday. “That led to an eventual ban of the team 12 years ago.”

Knocked down but not out, the team began rebuilding in 2003.

“Four years ago Don Greiwe, Brian Fallon and Mike Schmitt formed the Outside Irish Rugby Football Club,” Harrington said. “Outside” became a fitting moniker in describing the team’s detached status from the University.

“Last season we were completely self-coached and self-funded,” Harrington said. “We had to pay for all of our travel. We were not allowed to recruit, advertise, or play matches on campus. Although we could practice on campus, we were not allowed to reserve fields to practice on so it was difficult to gain access to facilities.”

Outside of the University’s favor and recognition, the team nonetheless continued to build and work toward its eventual goal – earning club status.

“Year by year we gathered more players and improved as a team,” Harrington said. “Two years ago when I was a sophomore, John Gallagher, the current vice president, and I put together a club constitution and with the help of Don Greiwe, Brian Fallon and David Seibel, put together an application to the administration to start up a rugby club at Notre Dame. This was an extremely long and difficult process.”

However, Harrington and his fellow roughnecks have become more than used to getting back up after taking their fair share of hits in the rough and tumble world of rugby. In the end, all of that hard work paid dividends, as the University reinstated the Notre Dame Rugby Football Club in May of last year.

“It was a lot of hard work that finally paid off,” Harrington said. 

Over the summer the team has gotten new jerseys, a new pitch and has become a member of the Chicago Area Rugby Football Union.

Even more important than University recognition is the right to wear the Notre Dame symbol on their sleeves.

“Last year we all had to play as the ‘Outside Irish’ as we were not recognized and so not allowed to represent the University,” sophomore flanker Jaime Urquijo said. “From now on all Notre Dame ruggers will have the very special privilege of bearing the ND monogram on our jerseys,”

Senior prop Patrick Noble agreed.

“I started playing and learning rugby last spring semester,” he said. “Coming from Texas, I grew up playing football and didn’t have any exposure to rugby whatsoever. Then, this young Spanish chap with an English accent [Urquijo] convinced me to check it out.

“While some aspects of the game are similar to football, playing rugby is a completely unique sport. The techniques, rules, and plays are different from any other sport that I know or watch on TV. I like learning such a new thing – it’s almost a cultural experience, learning a sport that the whole world plays. I also love to hit people.”

Harrington, Noble and Urquijo all cited a common love of “hitting people” as one of their primary reasons for playing the sport, despite a rash of injuries which have seen them land in the doctor’s office nearly as often as on the turf. For his part, Harrington has broken his nose twice and dislocated his knee once, although he said “the injuries are not as bad as you might think.” 

Noble has split an eyebrow and sprained the AC joint of his shoulder. Urquijo has suffered a couple of career concussions on top of a broken arm and finger. He also has a bent rib at the moment, which he describes as a “most peculiar injury as it does not bother me, and the doctor has assured me that in that case we should not touch it.”

Yet all of the bumps, bruises and broken bones have not deterred them from the pitch.

“Rugby, in my opinion, is every bloke’s favorite game,” Urquijo said. “They just don’t know it yet. Its a rough contact sport, but at the same time requires a great deal of fitness and awareness of the game.”

Having earned University recognition, the same thing continues to bind the team together as it has in years past: a common love of the game.

“On top of playing such an exhilarating and fast paced game, the friends and bonds which are formed over the game are priceless,” Urquijo said. “Some of my best friends on this campus and back home were made on the rugby pitch. While you are on that pitch putting your body on the line to win, at the risk of sounding very cliché, the 14 other players on your team are like your brothers. The bonds you make playing this game are never broken, and I encourage anyone who can to come out and watch us this season.”