It looks like rugby could be continuing to play its way into the local collegiate sports scene more and more in the next few years, at least if Iona and Fordham have anything to say about it. The Gaels, winners of the Liberty Conference, had a solid showing at this weekend’s Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship at Talen Energy Stadium just outside of Philadelphia, tying perennial national power Dartmouth (12-12) and upsetting another national player Kutztown on Saturday, before losing in the national quarterfinals to Arizona 17-0 before over 10,000 fans and a national TV audience on ESPN 2, not a bad showing for the New Rochelle school.
Even making more noise was Fordham, which had to go through a qualifying field for the tournament’s Freedom Cup to make the elite field for 2019. The Rams responded with perhaps the best rugby run since the days of Vince Lombardi playing the game at Rose Hill, shutting out Drexel twice (21-0 and 29-0), whitewashing Villanova 35-0 and defeating West Chester University in both pool play (14-12) and in the Cup final, 24-5 to gain their first-ever berth in the main even next June in Philly.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Fordham University men’s rugby coach Andrew Gheraldi. “I know how hard my team worked all year, we’ve been out in the ice since January, working our tails off. We were right on the precipice last year, and Mount St. Mary’s played us tough (and qualified), but right now, I’m very excited for these guys, they earned it.”
Fermin Moraiz, a sophomore scrumhalf for the Rams, noted “No words really describe what we feel like right now, to come back today after playing in the finals of this challenge last year, we made a promise to those seniors that we would come back and finish what they started. I can’t wait to be in this tournament next year.”
Fordham and Iona, once storied rivals in basketball, rising as powers on the rugby pitch? Not a bad way to cap the school year both in The Bronx and New Rochelle, with the best yet to come for both.