It’s been five years since Neil Richards was approached by several Chapin students about coaching a club rugby team.
The years since have been marked by success.
By their second season, the Eagles reached the Rugby South Carolina championships, which they have won the past two years.
Today, the Eagles face Wando hoping to win their third consecutive championship. The weekend’s rugby action also includes Irmo facing Greenville in the middle school title game.
The Eagles began with 17 players. Richards, who is from England, used his contacts with Columbia’s Old Grey Rugby club to get the program started.
While the players credit Richards and the Eagles’ coaching staff with their success, the coach said Chapin’s rugby program is driven by its talented athletes.
“They set the bar themselves and they always do what they need to do to step up to it. They put in that work,” Richards said. “That’s how the team started. The kids drove the membership.”
Richards’ son, Nick, is a senior on the team, and was one of the main recruiters for the team.
“Mostly, we talk to the guys that play other contact sports,” he said. “It’s normally really easy to get the football lineman, because you tell them they get to carry the ball.”
Stuart Harr did not need much persuading.
Harr joined the team as a sophomore, after completing his second season with the Chapin football team as a lineman.
“It was much more fun than football. And rugby was a lot easier for me to understand at first than football was,” said Harr, a senior.
“I fell in love with the game,” added another former football player, Jennings Stroud. “The game was always moving, and you get to do a little bit of everything.”
Stroud is one of 70 athletes in Chapin’s rugby program, which includes 25 middle schoolers.
“We’re pleased with our success because the hard work we’ve put in is really starting to pay off,” Nick Richards said.
Richards, Harr and Stroud are among a group of 10 seniors on the Eagles squad who have laid a solid foundation for the state’s premier rugby program.
“I’m hoping that we’ll continue the success that we’ve started once we move on,” said Stroud, who will play rugby at Clemson next year. Six of his teammates will join him there. Nick Richards will attend Life University, a Georgia school with a good rugby program.
“These kids have just been determined to play the game and take it as far as they can,” coach Richards said. “They have taken the rugby culture to heart.”
Rugby South Carolina has eight high school club teams and four middle school teams. As far as Richards knows, there is no push to make it a varsity sport.
And the Eagles are OK with that.
“We haven’t really thought about it, but I’m sure in the future, the High School League will adopt rugby, especially with it becoming an Olympic sport,” Stroud said.
But the rugby players say they are not playing for that recognition.
“I play for the love of the game,” Nick Richards said.
WHAT: Rugby S.C. State Championship
WHO: Chapin vs. Wando
WHEN: Today, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Crooked Creek Park, Chapin