Kevin Osbourne wasn't sure what had happened when he emerged from the scrum in the first half of his rugby match last Saturday. All he knew was that his left ring finger throbbed as he walked toward the sidelines of Bower Field. "It just felt weird, and I thought it might have been broken, so I went up to [assistant coach] Bruce [Newsome]... to get it checked out. "He looked at it and looked at me and said, OOh yeah, it's fine.' I gave him a little look, because I looked down and thought it was definitely broken, but then I taped it up and got back out there." Osbourne, pushing the thought of a broken finger to the back of his mind, got back out there for a couple of reasons. The first is because he is a rugby player, and rugby players play through the pain. The second is because he's a senior, and he knows that the number of chances for him to play this sport that he's recently grown to love are rapidly running out. The last reason that he got back out there -- and the only one that was on his mind as he wrapped that last piece of tape around his ring and pinkie fingers -- was because his team had only a tenuous, 15-10 lead on Delaware with minutes to go before halftime. He had no wish to see a repeat of last fall, when the young, struggling Penn team ended the fall season with a 1-3 record and no invitation to the Eastern Pennsylvanian Rugby Union (EPRU) playoffs. So while small packs of students watched from the bleachers and the sidelines, Osbourne -- the team captain -- got out there. And through the combination of his leadership, the offensive prowess and tuned foot of fly half Pablo Lema and the staunchness of the entire team in holding off some late Delaware surges, Penn came out with a 29-27 victory. € Nine continuous decades. That's how long the Penn men's rugby team has officially been in existence. This means they were in scrums (that's the big huddle of players we see form after a penalty) with opposing sides before the Treaty of Versailles existed. They were kicking conversions (worth two points after a try -- worth five) while the Allies were kicking Hitler's butt. And they even scored with hookers (that's a rugby position) while feminists were burning their bras. With its first official documentation dating from 1910, the Penn Rugby Football Club is, in fact, the oldest club team at Penn, as well as the longest continuously active rugby team in the Ivy League. This deep history for the Penn team has even gained the attention of the highest office in the land. "Warm greetings to everyone celebrating the 90th anniversary of the University of Pennsylvania Men's Rugby Club," reads the neatly typed page with the words "THE WHITE HOUSE" centered at the top. "Congratulations on reaching this milestone anniversary, and best wishes." Signed: Bill Clinton. "It's a neat feeling to know that you're a part of something that's been around for so long," Osbourne said. "I think one of the things we need to do better is to stay in touch with the history of the club." However, the Penn ruggers are very much in touch with one of the most recent chapters in team history -- the Mike Dugan era. Currently wrapping up his sixth year as the volunteer head coach for the team, Dugan has become a mainstay in Penn rugby since the spring of 1994. He's seen the rise and fall of the team, from a well-respected squad in the EPRU to the first losing season of his tenure in 1999. A lack of players was the problem that plagued that losing team last year. With a strong recruitment effort by club President Aaron Tidman this summer and early fall, though, the team seems to be rebuilding well. "I'm excited because we have all these young players out," Dugan said. "If we can keep them in the program and keep adding more players, absolutely we'll get better." € Osbourne sits in an empty lecture hall, a huge cast wrapped around his right wrist, up over his hand and around his pinkie and ring fingers. He went in for X-rays the day after beating Delaware and -- just as he had suspected -- his finger really was broken. "They say I'm out for a good two weeks," he said. "It's really going to be a test of my nerves because we're playing Princeton this weekend." Nerves will be on edge when Penn hits Bower Field Saturday at 1 p.m. Princeton is one of the powerhouse teams in the Ivy League, if not all of collegiate rugby. In all of Dugan's six years here, his team has never beaten the club from Old Nassau. They came close in 1998 during the springtime Ivy League championships, but the injury-riddled Penn squad failed to score a much-needed try at the end of the match. Osbourne is hoping that current injuries won't be an issue as Penn faces Princeton in his final year. "I really don't think me being out of the lineup is going to be the hugest deal [Saturday]," he said. "It's going to be who steps up, who's going to take it upon themselves to really take it to Princeton." For all we know, though, it might be Osbourne taking it upon himself -- for all the same reasons as before -- to come off the sidelines, ignore his right ring finger and try to help his team earn another win. His coach still hopes so -- within reason. "If medically they say he shouldn't [play], then I would never do anything that would be bad physically for him," Dugan said. "But I'm hoping we can maybe tape that up really good and he could go." It wouldn't be the first time.Comments powered by Disqus
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