Just three years after returning to its Austin, Texas campus following a hiatus, St. Edward’s rugby is in the midst of its second-straight undefeated regular season and just a few wins away from a Sweet 16 berth.
Two seasons ago, St. Edward’s didn’t win a single game. Last season, they won every regular season game and finished fifth in the country in the National Small College Rugby Organization. If St. Edward’s beats Texas Tech March 24th in Austin, it’ll advance to the West DII semifinals in St. Louis, Mo. With a win over the University of Central Missouri there, St. Ed’s will earn a spot in the DII Sweet 16.
The transition from non-existent to winning wasn’t an easy one, and it’s taken some quality coaching. St. Ed’s is steered by Lachlan Ferguson, who also serves as coach of the Austin Blacks. Ferguson started with the small school last season, so he’s not yet lost a regular season match with St. Ed’s. But, but he doesn’t take much credit for the resurrection of a once extinct program.
“This group of guys, their attitude is outstanding. Essentially, they play for each other, which is where you get success, which is what you’re trying to get people to do,” Ferguson, who’s been a professional coach for over a decade.
“I think the biggest issue when you’re coaching on the professional level is guys are being paid to do a job rather than doing it for love, and I guess the coach’s major job there is to get them to buy into the concept of playing for each other because then they elevate their efforts. These guys are doing it all for free. They’re not getting anything in return or in reward other than just the fact that they’re getting to play a great game of rugby.”
Ferguson was especially impressed by the way his team took to the rigorous training schedule he threw at them this year, going through 16 practice sessions in just two weeks.
“That’s the thing that I’ve got to take my hat off to these guys, because none of them are on scholarships, none of them have to be there. Just as a group of guys, they’re very tight and they’ve all bought in,” said Ferguson.
“When I called 7am practices, we’ve got the full squad there, all but maybe three or four guys. They’re very driven as a group. I think success breeds success. I think now that they’ve started to get a taste for winning matches they want to get better and stronger and it’s a great opportunity, because the vast majority of them are here for the next two seasons.”
While almost the entire roster is made up by American-born players, South African Andor Benyi orchestrates the attack from flyhalf.
“He makes a huge difference for us, because he’s obviously grown up playing the game,” said Ferguson. “He’s been a great point of reference to build the team around. We have some excellent homegrown guys, though, who’ve been very good for us.”
One of those guys is captain and inside center Andrew Heller, who grew up around the game.
“His dad played rugby for Ft. Worth Rugby Club, so Andrew has been brought up and around rugby clubs all his life,” said Ferguson. “He’s been a tremendous attribute for us.”
St. Edward’s isn’t a shoe-in to beat Tech, even though it already has this season. The Red Raiders led St. Ed’s 21-20 near full time of their regular season match, but on the restart following Tech’s go-ahead try, the Red Raiders committed a penalty, and Benyi slotted the game-winning penalty from about 40 meters out.
As Ferguson put it, the rematch should be a “blockbuster”.