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Given the club status of Penn's men's rugby team, the variation in talent level and previous exposure to the sport is massive, with some players entering as complete newcomers to the sport with others coming in with national team experience.

There are no rain delays in rugby.

Last Tuesday night, under the train trestle at Penn Park, Penn men’s club rugby proceeded with practice despite an uncomfortable drizzle and blistering winds.

The rough weather seemed quite appropriate for the stereotypically violent and testosterone-fueled sport. However, to those on the team, the sport is much more intricate and complex than casual observers might expect.

“Where I grew up, everyone grew up playing rugby,” said Club President, London native and Wharton junior Andrew Janssens, blood oozing from a freshly skinned knee. “So there’s a big teaching component to it. Some people here have played football, where they have the contact, but they’ve never passed the ball in their life.”

Therein lies an interesting dichotomy within the composition of the team. While some members — largely international students hailing from rugby hotbeds such as Australia and the United Kingdom — have been playing the sport their whole lives, many other players are experiencing rugby for the first time.

“We have players coming in from abroad who have played a lot ... some kids have played U-18 for their national sides,” junior Dan Glysak said. “But we always pick up a lot of new American kids who have never played before. A lot of them have high school backgrounds in sports like lacrosse or football.”

Since rugby is not an officially recognized NCAA sport, the club has no formal recruiting process and must draw its talent exclusively from Penn’s existing student body. The University also has a women’s club rugby team, which is structured similarly to its male counterpart and must undergo the same recruiting process.

“Our big recruitment happens at the activities fair,” Janssens said. “We just shout at people until they decide to join the team. Honestly that’s all we do.”

Despite the casual approach to recruiting, the club takes the sport very seriously. The Ivy League is one of the stronger conferences in the collegiate rugby landscape, and the team frequently participates in invitational tournaments against national powers such as Cal and Penn State.

“As far as the club sports go, we take it very seriously,” Glysak said. “We play every Ivy League team every year. And based on that, if we get a good ranking, we get to go on and play in bigger tournaments.”

The team sputtered to a 0-6-1 record in Ivy play during last fall’s season, as Dartmouth — one of the top-10 national sevens squads — won the league with a perfect 7-0 mark. However, newly hired head coach Nick Walker has brought a change in the atmosphere of the team and believes that the squad is poised for a turnaround.

“You just have to give the kids accessibility, so that they’re able to play,” Walker said. “Rugby can be technical, but it can also be quite an easy game to pick up.”

While the sport can be highly competitive, the members of the team are quick to remind themselves that Penn Rugby Club is, after all, a club. And rugby, after all, is just a game.

“At a school where people get segregated into different organizations, different groups, [rugby] really brings people together,” Glysak said. “We have lots of different kids from lots of different backgrounds who wouldn’t normally hang out together.

“So we’re not just here to play with our mates, we’re here to go have a drink with our mates after the game.”

After over an hour of grueling practice in those chilly, damp conditions, a drink is certainly well deserved.

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