Three teams use spring break to tour overseas

D1A Rugby: Three teams use spring break to tour overseas

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Touring over spring break is a longstanding college rugby tradition. For many college rugby players, spending their week away from textbooks and exams to skip town and play rugby against unfamiliar competition is the ideal spring break. A few D1A Rugby teams are taking their spring break tours to the extreme by throwing their passports into their kit bags.

Michigan, Penn State and Saint Mary’s are each taking the international route to touring this season. The Wolverines recently returned from a four-day experience in Cuba. Far from a traditional rugby-playing country, the trip to Cuba emphasized a cultural experience that included lacing up the boots and playing some rugby.

“It was a two-year process, but we as a squad wanted to go and experience Cuba and be one of the first university teams to play there,” explained Head Coach Brandon Sparks. “The men were very passionate about it and represented the school, the sport and their families very well.”

Away from the pitch, the players partook in community service and saw the sights of some of the country’s most historically significant monuments. On the pitch, the Wolverines got a run against a senior club side from Havana.

“They played a very physical style of rugby and we countered well,” Sparks said. “It was a fun experience and one that both teams will remember for a long time.”

The Nittany Lions are currently in Scotland and have already accumulated a 2-0 record in the United Kingdom. First, Penn State hammered West of Scotland, 73-5, before making 10 changes to its first XV that beat Strathclyde, 32-7. The quality form the Nittany Lions have shown overseas isn’t too surprising considering they picked up February wins over Navy and Old Blue of New York before spring break.

Penn State concludes its fixtures in Scotland March 11 against St. Andrews University before returning home to prepare for a contest pitting the Rugby East Champions against the Big Ten Universities Champions. The Nittany Lions will travel to Bloomington, Ind., to face No. 9 Indiana Saturday, March 25.

The Gaels will be flying international for spring break again this year. A season ago Saint Mary’s soaked up the rich rugby culture of New Zealand. Twelve months and nearly $80,000 of fundraising later, the team is four weeks from embarking on its 2017 European Tour to Ireland and Scotland.

As they do every spring, the Gaels have lined up several competitive matches that will provide plenty of playing minutes for everyone on tour. This year’s academic calendar has the team returning stateside just ahead of the D1A Rugby Playoffs. The timing makes for a logjam in an already busy schedule for a team hoping to reach the National Championship game for a fifth consecutive year, but international tours are part of the program’s fabric. Saint Mary’s has been taking these trips since the 1970s, and have profited from the generous donations of its alums that benefited as both rugby players and people while on tour with the Gaels.