Scan the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Washington Post for rugby coverage over the next week, and you’ll find a couple of stories about Maryland sophomore Matt Reilly.
The speedy wing, hoping to be selected for next weekend’s Collegiate Rugby Championship at PPL Park in Philadelphia, was born with only a partial left arm, which ends just below the elbow.
Despite his handicap, Reilly has become a regular contributor for the back-to-back Atlantic Coast Rugby League champion Terrapins, making up for his lack of a left hand with tenacity and hustle.
“I think the comment that myself and the other coaches had was just how tenacious he is on the field. He’s really turned on when he’s playing and tuned in,” said Maryland coach Jeff Soeken.
“I think he’d be a different payer if he had two hands. If he had two arms, I don’t think he’d work as hard. His work rate is that high because it needs to be.”
Soeken says Reilly excels defensively but sometimes struggles catching the ball at game speed.
“He follows through in tackles. He’s Johnny on the spot for pinching ball. He does make mistakes, and there’s no question about the fact that he has one arm is a detriment. He doesn’t really miss tackles, but catching the ball is a problem,” said Soeken.
During warm-ups, though, the coach uses Reilly as an example.
“A lot of times when we’re doing the warm-up the ball might be hitting the ground a lot. It’s usually not Matt that has that problem. He’s usually the one that’s focused on the task at hand, and I’ll bring that up to the guys while we’re warming up,” he said.
“It just points it out to the people with two arms that it’s not a physical inability to catch the pass, it’s just focus. That’s sort of the most telling thing is just how focused he needs to be with the one arm.”
Soeken first saw Reilly play the summer of 2010 with the Maryland Exiles 7s team, who he’s played with each of the last two 7s seasons.
“That summer you saw how fast he was,” said Soeken. “He scores a lot of tries in the summer, that’s the comment the Exiles guys make to me. You don’t think he should be able to do it, but he just scores.”
Over the past two years, watching Reilly play good rugby with one-and-a-half arms has lost its novelty, says Soeken.
“The shocking thing for me now is to watch him in the weight room and watch him strap on a fake hand so that he can walk up to a bar and do power clings or pull ups. That’s more shocking to me now than watching him play rugby.”
Reilly is exactly the kind of player a coach would love to take into the CRC -- he’s fit, fast, hard-working and possesses 7s experience. The only drawback is his handicap, but, says Soeken, if Reilly isn’t selected it won’t be because of his left arm. It will be because of a hamstring injury that’s nagged him this spring.