Men’s Rugby Playoff Bound

By Kelly Manalo, Staff Writer

Eric Populus goes up for the ball during a lineout against Western Oregon.
Eric Populus goes up for the ball during a lineout against Western Oregon.


The Eastern rugby team took on the University of Oregon Ducks March 9 in Eugene, Ore., for placement in the playoffs.

The Ducks and Eagles tied with a score of 19-19, and the team now stands at 3-1-1 with 17 points. On March 2, they defeated Western Oregon 26-7 at Roos Field.

Against Western Oregon, the team scored a push-over try, which is rare, according to coach David Ratcliff. “It’s just a stunning display of dominance. The best thing about it is that Eric [Populus] and the rest of the team told the opposite team what they were going to do before they did it.”

Populus is the top individual point scorer in the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference with 93 points; the second scorer has 57 points. He also placed with the top individual try scorers, according to the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference statistics.

Populus scored 44 points in one game against Boise State University on Feb. 2. “I’ve been coaching for ten years and played for 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one player score that many points [in one game],” said Ratcliff.

“He’s the captain and the leader. He’s a good leader. He doesn’t shout at players, he encourages them. He brings a tremendous amount of leadership to the team.”

The team’s last regular season game will be against Western Washington University, the number one seed in the Western Division, March 16.

“We’re trying to get first place seeding so we can host [the playoffs],” said forward captain Cameron Bowers.

“Unlike football, you have 30 players on the field at any one time. There’s not a lot of space. A traditional rugby field is 75 yards wide, so [Roos Field] was a much more narrower field than you would normally play, so it’s much harder to score,” said Ratcliff.

Ratcliff became the new coach five days before the start of the season. He replaced Ian Martin, who coaches part-time now, according to Bowers. “I feel like that’s why we lost our first game we were completely changing our team, but then after that we’ve been really focused in games and we’ve been really calm and collected the whole time.”

Since that first loss, the team’s mentality has been, “We need to win if we want to be first,” said senior forward Brian Adams. “We are definitely feeling that this is our chance.”

The team has a very strong shot of winning the Eastern Division, according to Ratcliff.

The quarterfinals and semifinals are on the same day, April 6. If they win the semifinals, which they would host if they were the number one seed, they would then go to Seattle for the conference final, according to Ratcliff.

“We want to focus on the league championship. We’ve never had one of those,” said Bowers. “Like coach says, ‘One inch at a time,’” added backs captain Justin Dreyer.

“We’re going to go out and try to win. There’s no resting,” said Ratcliff.

As a new coach, Ratcliff has upped the intensity of the team’s practices, according to Adams. “He’s put more of a drive in us. He’s made us work harder at practices and he’s given us a lot more confidence.”

“I always tell the players that they have to practice harder than the other teams, so they’ve embraced that. They work out very hard. Our practices are very physical, much more physical than any other team that you’ll see,” said Ratcliff.

The team practices three times a week, two hours a day. “It’s a hard practice and that’s made us a very hard team. We’re not tapering that at all when it comes to playoffs. We want to embrace that. We keep practicing hard because that’s how we play: hard,” said Ratcliff.

The team is very competitive and their ambition is to make it to the finals. And they have a good shot, according to Ratcliff.

“If they win [conference] they go to the national’s sweet 16. These guys have had their eyes on that right from the very beginning. They’re very ambitious. They’re very committed and they’re aiming high,” said Ratcliff.