Anderson Broxson prepares to block Metshelly Thibaud. Photo by Sean Flannelly

Burgeoning CCHS rugby team grows into a sport unique in more ways than one

By Sean Flannelly — Correspondent

It’s a familiar image: At the end of any varsity sports game, the winning team cheers, celebrates, and poses for photos, while the losing team, heads hung low, quickly scuttles home or into the locker room. 

But not after a rugby match. 

Instead, the two teams share a meal — usually a much-needed post-game pizza — and talk about their showdown. 

“It’s really gratifying [to] play your hardest and then enjoy the spirit of the game with the opposition team,” said David Manion, head coach of the Concord-Carlisle High School rugby team. 

Agreed team Captain Kaden Johnson, a senior, “That’s just so different compared to every other sport I’ve done — everybody is just buddy-buddy after the game… We just converse and eat pizza together and have fun. It’s very different, but I love it.”

The amicable tradition is a carryover from rugby clubs around the world. 

Manion, who grew up playing rugby in Australia and played for the Boston Irish Wolfhounds locally, wants to share the culture and spirit of the game with his players, many of whom had never played rugby — or even watched a game — before joining the team. 

“What we’re really trying to impart is the culture and that kids can enjoy it in a safe way,” Manion said. “It takes a special sort of athlete to want to play rugby.”

In its first varsity season, the rugby team was 0-3 as of early May, which Manion said is expected given the number of new, younger players. 

Head Coach David Manion imparts some detailed advice to a player. Photo by Sean Flannelly

Fun and full contact

Kaden and his sophomore brother Rhys joined the inaugural team last year despite knowing little about the sport. Now, in the team’s first season as a varsity sport, Kaden is the team captain and a standout athlete. He and his brother attended a rugby camp in the off season, and he even plans to join the Rutgers rugby club next fall. 

“I honestly like every bit of the sport,” Kaden said. “It’s just all fast-paced, and you go from one conflict to another; you’re all over the field.”

As a former soccer, track, and cross country athlete, Kaden had never played a full-contact sport. Now, he enjoys the “combat” of rugby, where players do not wear pads and instead practice tackling and “scrummaging” safely. 

“You just use your body — it’s really unique the way you play the game,” Rhys said. 

Cooper Ubaldino and Matthew Belmont follow up on a tackle. Photo by Sean Flannelly

With fewer than 20 players, the rugby team also feels much more “tight-knit,” Kaden said, than the school’s cross country team with its more than 80 athletes.

“I like just the camaraderie,” he said. 

Both Kaden and Rhys said they were excited by the chance to be part of Concord-Carlisle High School’s first-ever rugby team. 

“People around school didn’t really know what it was, but I got the chance to explain it to them,” Rhys said. 

Assistant coach John Garofalo said the current players took a “gamble” joining a nascent team: “It can be risky for kids to take a chance on something new… but they have a great attitude, and they all support each other.”

Garofalo wants to see the program continue to grow from here. Ideally, he said Concord-Carlisle would have a full men’s and women’s team, each with about 40 players, enough for a first- and second-string lineup. 

“These are the legacy players, the first time it’s a varsity sport,” Garofalo said. “I hope they come back in 10 years, for the reunion, and watch more kids play.”

Kaden Johnson goes in for a tackle on the pad. Photo by Sean Flannelly

Building out the program

Manion attempted to create a Concord-Carlisle rugby program about eight years ago. The athletic department wasn’t interested at the time. Last year, he found a supporter in Athletic Director Aaron Joncas, who allowed the school to join 19 others in the state offering the sport. 

To further build out the program, Manion is looking into recruiting at the middle school level and potentially becoming a cooperative team, which means inviting students from other schools to participate. 

“Dave is an unsung hero for the amount of work he does in the background, the coordination, and the amount of time he puts into it,” Garofalo said. “The team’s pretty lucky to have him on board.”

For now, the primary goal is teaching the spirit of rugby to the current crop of players, who have nothing but great things to say about their new sport. 

“It’s for anyone,” said sophomore Tyler Colgan. “Most of these people here are new, you don’t have to know anything about the sport to play … it’s unlike any other sport.”

“We all have good friendships built; we have good teamwork on and off the field,” Rhys said. “It’s a really cool team.”

“I’m all in on rugby,” Kaden said.