On Saturday, April 21, the Stern Rugby Football Club (Stern RFC) will battle the Columbia RFC at the Lawrence A. Wien Stadium for the Gotham Cup. Stern RFC is hoping to dethrone Columbia Business School (CBS), which has held the Gotham Cup for the past ten seasons straight. Stern RFC is coming off a winning season, competing against other teams in the prominent Business School League such as Duke, Wharton, Harvard, Yale and of course Columbia. Regardless of whether Stern emerges triumphant in the impending match for the Gotham Cup, the club’s current season represents the culmination of a period of extended growth for the RFC.
Started as an informal club in 1996, Stern RFC has grown steadily. The club’s beginnings were humble, consisting largely of informal rugby matches after class in Washington Square Park. Over the past twenty years, the team has grown and matured, and the Club now aims to become NYU’s preeminent sports team.
The Stern RFC is currently led by co-captains William Pitt, Matthew Burke, and William Herrin. Pitt, Class of 2019, explained that the club hopes to become a vehicle to express school spirt and to build NYU community. Pitt hopes that the RFC will help to raise NYU’s profile, as well as increase the profile and popularity of rugby amongst NYU’s students.
Stern RFC has a roster of almost sixty players, and the squad maintains a rigorous practice schedule. Stern RFC practices on Randall’s Island each Tuesday and Thursday, between seven and nine each evening. In addition to bi-weekly practice, the club has strength and conditioning training three times a week on campus. Staying in peak shape is important.
“[Rugby is] a brutally physical game that requires total selflessness from everyone on the pitch, putting your body on the line for the men and women either side of you,” Pitt said. “It’s the ultimate team sport and breeds a certain type of individual that we’re incredibly proud of.”
The club accepts new members twice a year, in the spring and the fall. Currently the club is open to anybody who wishes to play, although starting positions are decided by skill level. Pitt explained that while many of the members of the club grew up watching or playing rugby, roughly one thirdof the team had never played rugby before joining the club. Pitt says the club is popular with former high school and college athletes, especially former football players, who are looking for camaraderie and a fun way to stay in shape.
For those unfamiliar with the rules of rugby, there are two versions, called Rugby Union and Rugby League. Pitt explains that Stern RFC plays Rugby Union, which is the more popular of the two variants worldwide. Rugby Union and League share the same basic framework, with two teams attempting to score the most points through an 80-minute game.
While the scoring mechanisms are the same in both variations of the game, there are slight differences in how points are allocated. The primary method of scoring in both variations is called a “try,” which is roughly analogous to a touchdown in American Football and is worth five points in Rugby Union. Rugby Union features 15 players on the field at a time, while League features 13. In addition to the 15 starters that Stern RFC will be fielding in the Gotham Cup, eight players will be on the bench.
Stern RFC aims to go on tour twice a year and has been competing in the annual “HogFest” festival thrown annually by Wharton in Philadelphia. In addition to the annual fall trip to Philadelphia, Stern RFC aims to go on a summer tour, having participated in the world-renowned Bingham cup several times in the past few years. In addition to inter-collegiate games, Stern RFC regularly plays semi-professional rugby teams throughout the city.
Burke, Class of 2019, explains that the whole team has been preparing eagerly for the upcoming match.
“I’m eager to see some of the new members test their skills against a strong opponent,” he said. “Games against CBS are always special but to be hosted in Wien Stadium has added another dimension to the event and for that we thank our cross-town rivals. It’s time to prepare for what will surely be a battle on Saturday!”
Regardless of who triumphs in the quest for the Gotham Cup this month, the match is an event not to be missed. Prior to the 8pm match, a pre-game happy hour with three-dollar beer will be held at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street for fans over the age of 21. Following that, there will be a tailgate beginning at 7Ppm at Wien Stadium, featuring games, food from Kelvin’s Burgers and Brats, and team merchandise for sale. Additionally, NYU Cheerleading will perform at the match.