Thirty-four members of the HBS Rugby Club traveled to Duke University from April 5-7 to battle it out amongst a field of twenty-two B-Schools from around the world in the 25th MBA Rugby World Championships. The climax of every B-School rugby season, this tournament had extra meaning for HBS as our squad was returning as defending champions and sporting a 3-0 record in international play during the 2001-2002 season.
Fierce international competition was the hallmark of this year’s tournament – strong teams from Ireland (Smurfit), England (London Business School, Cranfield, and Warwick), Australia (AGSM), and Canada (McGill) traveled to North Carolina to do battle with the best USA B-schools, including Wharton, Stanford, Chicago, Thunderbird, NYU, Columbia, Texas, UNC, Tuck, Harvard, and hosts Duke-Fuqua.
Fuqua proved to be perfect hosts throughout the weekend, showing why the MBA World Rugby Championships are held at their university facilities each year. Duke provides both soccer and rugby with equally amazing athletic surfaces, for both undergraduate and graduate student teams.
Teams are simply not willing to travel abroad to play rugby on fields without the critical element known as “grass.” Even some prominent northeast business schools force their rugby teams to play “sandlot rugby” in dust bowls littered with pebbles, broken glass and bottle caps. Fuqua delivered on social events as well, not an easy task when hosting 22 men’s and 6 women’s rugby teams for the weekend.
In a grueling two-day tournament where it takes seven games of rugby to bring home the trophy, HBS gave it all they had and then some. After five, HBS lost a heartbreaker to the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) in Sunday’s single-elimination play. Following are highlights from each of the matches.
Match #1 vs. McGill
Rugby began early Saturday morning with a 9 AM match against McGill. After being humiliated in a home match last fall by HBS, 43-0, McGill was looking for revenge. HBS, however, were not willing to oblige, and took an early lead behind Baron Hanson (FAS) who took in two tries for Harvard. Rolling from the penalty maul, and then picking up from the base of the scrum, Hanson bulled through taking back-to-back ball over the try line for his side. Brian Connell (OK) on the wing waltzed in for a try and sealed the match early in the second half. Phil Kerr (NB) and Chris Walenczak (OI) were mighty in the second row, and provided HBS’ back line, fed by Adam Diamond (OJ), with clean ball from the rucks.
Final Score: HBS 15, McGill 5
Match #2 vs. LBS
In Saturday’s most heart-wrenching match, Harvard faced of against London Business School that brought old Dartmouth rivalries to the forefront. In the unanimous “hit of the tournament”, Dann Angeloff (OA) leveled opposing fullback Adam Dixon with a slightly late hit that landed HBS Rugby’s favorite marine in the sin-bin for 10 minutes. Rising to the occasion, HBS played one man down but held LBS to a one-point lead going into the final minutes of the game. With the clock winding down, HBS returned to full strength and began a final drive, only to come up yards short as time expired.
Offensive powerhouse Jorge O’Hara (NI) recaps his score against LBS:
“Midway into the second half, we took a lineout at LBS’ 22-yard line and Josh Hall (NF) passed me the ball. Down the field I ran, faking a switch with Mike Paley and dummying a pass…their defense line bit on the fakes, opening a hole, and I dribbled between their centers to score a try under the post.”
Final Score: LBS 11, HBS 10
Match #3 vs. SMU
Fired up after losing their first match of the year against an international side, HBS also knew they had to have a good showing in the last match of the day in order to secure a good seeding for the single elimination portion of the tournament. The unfortunate opponent to take the pitch against the Harvard men with this amount of burning desire to win and win big was SMU.
Captains Michael Paley (OD) and Sean Gass (OA) demanded scores early and often, and their teammates delivered. In one of his two tries in the match, Brian Connell stole the ball from the opposing back line by intercepting a pass and ran for a 50-yard try. John Hoffman (OJ) remembers the match fondly, especially “being sat on by the largest human I have ever witnessed, SMU’s 350-pound number 1.” Late in the game, an unfortunate hamstring injury struck Jorge O’Hara at the end of a long run, but he was able to pass the ball off to Santiago Kraiselburd (PhD), who supported on the field by David Merle (NF) and JohnHoffman (and off the field by wife Maria and baby son Franco) took the ball and continued the drive to score the try.
Final Score: HBS 43, SMU 0
Match #4 vs. Columbia
From this point on, play was single elimination – leaving one champion when the dust settled at the end of the day. HBS’ strong performance in day one, especially against SMU, gained them the #6 seed in the tournament, assuring one game against a lower-seeded opponent before marching on towards the title game. Day two of the tournament began early as well, with a 9 AM match against Columbia. Prior to the match, Barry Horgan (OD) revealed to the team that we would be wearing the never-been-worn-and-highly-motivating Black HBS jerseys.
After a slow start, HBS rallied around the strong push of the pack in the scrum, highlighted by front row play of Eric Miller (Harvard Law), Chris Walenczak, Anthony Carango (NA), Sean Gass, and Derek Mendez (ND), who pounded away at the opposition until their own bodies began to give way. John Hoffman delivered two tries for HBS and Brian Connell had another strong showing, despite leaving one ball five yards short of the try zone in a rush to perform his celebratory dance for the raucous crowd.
Final Score: HBS 18, Columbia
Match #5 vs. AGSM
The #3 seed Aussies of AGSM were up next for Harvard. Due to a disgraceful forfeit by Wake Forest, AGSM were spared their first match of the day and thus fresh and ready for a battle-weary HBS squad. Despite muttering bad things about Wake Forest under their breath, the men of Harvard got their game faces on and prepared for battle, with the additional help of a reminder from those on the squad from last year: HBS’ only loss in the 2001 tournament en route to the title had been to AGSM. Revenge was on our minds as we took the pitch.
Alas, it was not to be. In a hard-hitting match that hinged on a few key plays, the entire HBS team played out of its skin and nearly won the match. Claude London (OA) and Chris Brezski (OC) gave it their all in their final HBS match. Tucker Bailey put on a heroic performance playing at his undergraduate alma mater. Baron Hanson scored the only 3 points for HBS with a penalty goal over the posts. When time had expired, a weary Harvard side could look each other in the eye and say “we left it all out on the field, but it wasn’t enough today.”
Final Score: AGSM 13, HBS 3
After returning to the hotel to clean up, eat lunch, and check out, HBS returned to the main pitch to watch the final – a dominant game by Smurfit over Cranfield left most wondering about the recruiting efforts of their MBA program – and enjoy the company of the other participants. As graduating officers and players of the club passed the torch on to the new guard, those of us returning for another season had just one goal in mind: to come back next year and take home the trophy.
Like the winners at Augusta National, the HBS Rugby team was fitted for custom Blazers – these by Milton’s of Boston (www.miltons.com). Since Rugby players are the best gents in town, Milton’s came through the night before Duke with a rush delivery that outfitted the entire team in time for travel. Rugby Blazers are awarded to those HBS players who train, play and tour with the team. As the HBS athletes stepped off the plane and entered the tournament social, it was clear the university was professionally represented in Rugby’s coat and tie tradit
ion. After HBS defeated McGill on Saturday, Honorary Coach Mike Hanson was awarded the coveted “Black Jacket” by HBS Rugby Captain Sean Gass, who said, “Coach Hanson is old friends with all the referees down South, and we knew he was here to take care of business.”
Thanks to Schlumberger, Kidd & Company, RedBull, Milton’s Men’s Store and Pepsi, the Harvard Business School Rugby team was able to take part in one of the most successful years in recent history. Since apparel, travel and accommodations for 50 club members is the bulk of fall and spring campaign costs, it is the generosity of sponsors and the efforts of students who organize international MBA Rugby funding for HBS that enable the team to enjoy a fine season. Mike Paley, Tom Burke and Baron Hanson were each instrumental in arranging the needed funds and donations for 2001-2002.
HBS Tournament Roster MBA Rugby World Championships
April 6-7, 2002 @ Duke University
Sean Gass (Captain)
Michael Paley (Captain)
Karim El Naggar