In an epic, hard fought battle the Harvard Business School Rugby Football Club came up just short in their quest for world domination. The final score, Smurfit 14, HBS 7 was wholly indicative of a closely fought match whose outcome was undecided until the final minute. Though falling short of their ultimate goal of winning the World MBA Championship, the HBS RFC held their heads high in defeat, as their’s was a journey for which nary a soul will soon forget.
The RFC’s road to the World MBA Championships was paved in the sweat and blood of countless practices and games. During the fall season league play was especially brutal with HBS facing off against serious club competition from division leaders each and every weekend. Despite a rough start, the team re-grouped, defending their title as Wharton Hogfest Tournament Champions and even winning the London Business School Rugby Tournament against formidable international opposition from INSEAD, LBS, and a short-handed Smurfit squad.
Practices took on a new intensity after the Christmas break, with the RFC meeting three days a week on the courts of Shad to fine-tune the playbook in preparation for the year-end tournament at Duke University. Fitness was a common theme, as many a rugger struggled through 22-minute runs and other torturous exercises dreamt up by the team’s leader and captain, Carl “Lavos” Lavin (OE). Tune-up games against Providence and Portland under the bright lights of the New England Soccer School tested the mettle of this team. Casualties included the squad’s heart and soul, Josh Bresler (OE), who suffered a vicious concussion. But the spring warm-up did give the team a taste of what was necessary in order to compete at a high level in the year-end tournament at Duke.
Despite a tough first day draw against Kellogg, Stanford, and Wharton A, the HBS RFC was determined that, Business Week rankings be damned, their only business was inflicting pain and humiliation upon their opponents. In the day’s first game the RFC handily beat their pink-frocked friends from Kellogg by a final score of 50-0. Leading the way were team presidents Andrew Heffernan (OJ) and Pascal Ambrosi (OF). Ambrosi and Lavin personally added two scoring tries each and Heffernan, newcomer Ben Handzo, fly-half Gavan Neary (FAS), and incoming co-captain Flint Macgregor (NE) added a score a piece to complete the dismantling. Particularly notable were the performances of vice-captain Ollie Corlette (OC) and breathless wing play by Thomas Connelly (OD), David Winslow (OA), and Quan Nguyen (NF).
In the afternoon’s second stanza the RFC faced off against a surprisingly spry team from Stanford. Having just beaten Wharton A in the early game, Stanford was clearly eager to claim a consecutive major upset against the American favorites from Harvard. Early-on the intensity on the pitch clearly favored the lads from Palo Alto. In the second half, however, momentum changed dramatically, in large part due to the tireless rucking and tackling of forwards Billy Soares (HMS), Saul De La Guardia (HLS), and Jeff Todd (HLS), and the emotional leadership from returning alum Jay Klug (HBS ’05). A couple of penalty kicks kept the Stanford squad even for most of the match before scoring tries from incoming co-captain Stephane Heuze (NB) and Jonathan Krautmann (OJ) catapulted the team to victory by a final margin of 18-6.
In the day’s final game the HBS RFC faced off against their hated rivals from Wharton A. Having only narrowly beaten this squad in the two games the squads shared during the fall “Hogfest” tournament in Philadelphia, HBS was fully prepared for the bloodshed that awaited. The men from Wharton struck first, however, marching down the field to the delight of their fans, coming away with a penalty kick that put the RFC in the awkward position of having to come from behind against a particularly motivated, ugly opponent.
Summoning the courage of a champion, the RFC fought back in determined fashion. Jason Glass (OI) and Ben Handzo orchestrated beautiful line-outs and contributed fearless tackles. Kevin Releford (OB) intimidated the Wharton men with head first running, and Frenchmen Renaud Aubrac (KSG) expertly manned the flanker position. In the end, the RFC pulled ahead on a beautiful tip-toe-down-the-line try by John Doran (NB) and another score at the final whistle by Jonathan Krautmann (OJ).
With shoulders knotted, skulls aching, and arms bruised, the RFC retired to their hotel that evening early. True, the squad had performed as expected, but fresh backs and clear heads were clearly in short order; the team needed it’s rest for the final day of the tournament in order to have any chance against the morrow’s quality competition. With a tough quarterfinal match up against LBS and a potential semi-final game against Smurfit on the horizon few could have predicted the outcome of the second day’s battles.
Rising at the crack of dawn the HBS RFC ate their breakfast in silence. Bagels, cereal, orange juice, coffee. The day’s business was all business and the faces of the RFC revealed little to the casual observer. The ensuing 90 minute drive from the hotel to the playing fields gave each and every individual on the squad an opportunity to reflect on their long journey, conceived in the darkest days of defeat exactly one year ago at this very same tournament.
With determination in their eyes and fire in their bellies the RFC stepped on to the field against a meaty LBS team that outweighed them by 40 lbs., on average. The final score, an 8-0 victory for HBS was wholly indicative of how close the game was played. Captain Carl “Lavos” Lavin (OE) again led the way, scoring the team’s only try, despite suffering a gruesome blow to the back midway through the game. Shaking hands with their LBS colleagues after the game the RFC felt fortunate to have advanced and excited for their eagerly awaited semi-final match against the Irish Smurfit School of Business.
Over the years, the Irish Smurfs have truly dominated the international rugby landscape winning four of the last five World MBA Championships. With a team composed in large part of ruggers who regularly play for their semi-pro teams on the weekend, any group facing the Smurfs has good reason for trepidation. During the run-up to Smurfit’s meeting with HBS this Irish squad had, for example, won their four games by a combined score of 226-6. With only one game left to claim a spot in the tournament championship game, Smurfit-backers gave the men of the HBS RFC little chance against such a dominant force.
HBS, however, showed itself to be a ferocious punch-you-in-the-face competitor, more than worthy of a seat at the championship table. In a semi-final game that will be permanently etched into the memory of all who participated, the men of RFC led for much of the game on a brilliant take-away and score by former Cal All-American John Taylor (GSD). During one particularly memorable phase three Smurfit attackers were left writhing on the pitch in agony, the victims of grotesquely savage tackles by defensive stalwarts Kevin Releford (OB), Thomas Connelly (OD), and Jason Glass (OI). In the end, however, the skill of the Smurfit backs proved to be too much, and the RFC fell in the year’s final game by a final score of 14-7.
As the club looks ahead to next year there is clearly much unfinished business. The RFC’s success and popularity over the years has only succeeded in raising expectations. Indeed, next year’s club leadership, overseen by RC co-captains Stephane Heuze (NB) and Flint MacGregor (NE), and co-presidents Jeff Todd (HLS) and John Doran (NB) have hefty shoes to fill.
Duke 2007 starts now.
The Harvard Business School Rugby Football Club wishes to thank gold sponsor Anglo Irish Bank, silver sponsor Apax Partners, bronze sponsors Pizzeria Uno’s and Sierra Nevada, and Magners Original Irish Cider.