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Written History: Late 80s'

posted Jul 16, 2012, 10:38 AM by Rice Rugby

By 1985, the RURFC featured a core of graduate students that had played together for several years. Led by the versatile Dave Schafer, who could step into any position on the field from prop to flyhalf, the Owls played a rugged schedule against a mix of Texas club teams and college sides. Rice teams were marked by gritty play in the forwards form players such as undergraduates Steve Nations and Stuart Lewis, an outstanding undergraduate halfback duo of Walter Kenneally and Jim Humes, and a hard tackling set of backs led by graduate students Mark Leising, Wes Walter, and John Levois. Offensive success was most often achieved when the back line popped grad student winger Mike Glass into the clear, where he could use his massive build and sprinter"s speed to devastating effect

The year 1985 marked a something of a watershed for Rice Rugby, as the club began a transition from a side dominated by graduate students, competing primarily in the Texas club rugby competition, to one dominated by undergraduates competing against collegiate competition. The key figure in this transition was Phil Meyer, who arrived as a freshman in 1985 and stepped into a second row position that he played with distinction for the next four years. Meyer"s made two signal contributions to the success of this transition - he tirelessly recruited undergrads to play rugby, and he convinced Duncan Rossiter, a New Zealander who was in Houston to coach the Houston Old Boys senior side, to become Rice"s first rugby coach. Another four-year starter that arrived as a freshman in 1985 was hooker Keith Couch, who carried two years of experience playing the game in high school in the UK.

1986 was a year marked by less success on the field as the stable core of graduate students drifted away, having completed their studies. The influx of talent at the undergraduate level continued, with the arrival of loose forward Richard "Tres" Ward, (Couch"s high school teammate), scrumhalf Sean Park (with high school experience in Canada), all-arounder Mike Giangiorgi, and lock forward Tom Jackson. The team was younger and won less often, but was building a new core that would find success later on.

The tide began to shift as the team received inspired coaching from Duncan Rossiter. Beginning in the late fall of 1987, Rossiter would appear at the biweekly practices, often with fresh paint still on his face from his day job painting houses, and drill the team on fundamentals, team play, and fitness until dark. One of Meyer"s key recruits was former Owl footballer Brannan Smoot, who stepped into the back row and began a rugby career that later saw him as a mainstay of the Dallas Harlequins senior side and which culminated in an appearance for the USA Eagles national team in 1992. The results were soon apparent on the field. The team entered the year end collegiate tournament in Lubbock for the first time in the spring of 1988, marking the transition to focus upon undergraduate collegiate competition.

The Owls arrived as a force in Texas collegiate rugby beginning in the fall of 1988. Rossiter had returned to New Zealand, but Rice continued to receive professional-caliber coaching from Welshman Steve Zeal, who had arrived to work with the Old Boys. Sean Park was installed as president of the club, and quickly set about securing for Rice the responsibility of hosting the Texas Collegiate championship tournament at season"s end. The Owls were the class of Texas college rugby in that year, with standout performances from prop Ted Adams, flyhalf Ali Koc, wingers Steve Sain and Steve Mattingly, and fullback Steve Maclennan. The Owls went on their first tour in living memory, to California in the spring of 1989, where they took on San Jose, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz.

The season resulted in twin titles for this outstanding team. The Owls took the first of what was to be many Texas Collegiate titles on their home ground on a frigid March day, thumping Texas Tech to take home the hardware. In addition, the Owls won the Texas Class C club side championship in Dallas, soundly beating Arlington. At season"s end, Rice traveled to Lawrence, KS for the collegiate regionals, where they lost to eventual national champions Air Force by a score of 21-10. No Owl team to date had ever played so much rugby in one year, or played so successfully. The standard was set for the successes in the 1990"s that would follow.

Keith Coach - Class of 1989

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