DARIEN, Conn. – Connor McCarthy looked around at the nearly 40 rugby players Saturday at Darien High School and was astonished. “It’s impressive,’’ said McCarthy, who plays at Miami University in Ohio with his brother, Sam. “Interest certainly seems to be growing.”
The McCarthy brothers were part of a large contingent of alumni who returned for a scrimmage with current Darien High School players. The season for the Darien High School rugby team doesn’t start until spring. But Saturday’s game was a chance for the younger players, some of whom are involved in the sport for the first time, to learn from their college counterparts.
The McCarthy brothers played on Darien’s first rugby team in 2007. They were coached by their father, John, who remains as the team’s head coach. Last season, the Blue Wave won its divisions in the New York Metropolitan League and in the Connecticut High Schools’ State Tournament. Six Darien players were selected to represent Connecticut at an interstate tourney against Massachusetts and Vermont.
“I thought once my brother and I graduated it might die,’’ Connor McCarthy said. “Instead, it seems like it keeps growing.”
While rugby is often compared to American football because of the body contact, it also incorporates skills associated with soccer. The best rugby players have quickness and endurance and can handle the ball – albeit with their hands instead of their feet. In rugby, every player carries the ball and every player must know the basics of tackling. Players do no substitute on offense and defense.
The players like the physical nature of the sport. They also enjoy the teamwork and participation. “Just the fact that no one sits out makes it appeal to a lot of players,’’ McCarthy said.
The growth of rugby is particularly surprising in Darien. Many Darien boys start out playing lacrosse, football, baseball or hockey. In most cases, their first exposure to rugby is not until high school. But once they get into it they are hooked.
Former Darien players who have gone on to play at Wake Forest, Colgate, Union and Virginia Tech were among those participating in Saturday’s exhibition. The McCarthy brothers will play for Miami University in Ohio in the 7-on-7 national tournament beginning Dec. 16 in College Station, Texas. With engaged alumni and up-and-coming players, rugby seems to have found its niche in the Darien community.
“I’d say at least 50 percent of the people here are alumni,’’ McCarthy said. “Just the fact that they’re coming back and promoting the sport is helpful. Hopefully it will lead to more guys wanting to learn how to play.”