Facing a familiar foe from just down the road will always get an athlete’s blood pumping. They are competitors, and competitors feed off the motivation and desire to beat their longtime rivals.
It is especially true for the Elon University men’s club rugby team, which fell 19-14 by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the newly anointed Rivalry Games Series championed by Elon Campus Recreation at the South Campus Rugby Pitch.
The series in which each of Elon’s club sports teams will participate, pits two longtime rivals against each other for regional bragging rights. Elon and UNCG happen to be in the same division and conference for men’s rugby — the Piedmont Division of the Southern Rugby Conference.
“Anytime we have a team that we play on a regular basis that’s close to us, it brings a heightened level of excitement,” said Elon club rugby coach Ryan Bays. “Anytime you get more people out and have them yelling and screaming and making noise, it’s a good motivator for your team.”
Elon trailed 19-7 late in the match before scoring and adding a kick to cut UNCG’s lead to 19-14. But they could get no closer and were forced to watch their rivals holler joyfully on the other side of the pitch.
Despite the loss, Elon senior Nicholai DiBiagio hopes the Rivalry Games Series with the Spartans will become an annual event.
“These kinds of events will really help us grow the game and grow our program,” DiBiagio said. “Our program has come a long way in my four years, and hopefully this event will continue and bring rugby a bit more recognition.”
Bays echoed the sentiment of the team captain, but added that it doesn’t have to be an annual game with UNCG. In fact, because Elon plays UNCG so often, he wouldn’t mind switching up the opponent every year.
“I don’t know if playing this event against UNCG every year is a necessity because we’re probably going to go back and forth with them on a regular basis,” Bays said. “With other teams, there’s less camaraderie than there is with [UNCG], so having a different team who you’re less familiar with would bring new intensity to the event.”
Moving forward, DiBiagio knows that the team must clean up the mistakes that cost dearly against UNCG, most notably the penalties and infractions that played a significant role in their slow start.
If they are able to build on the positives they’ve shown early on this season, clean up their messy mental mistakes and get off to quicker starts, Elon will be able to steadily improve as the season goes on.
“We came out a little flat,” DiBiagio said. “Our energy level, especially at kickoff, is something we need to improve. We need to work on our energy and discipline. It’s key that we cut down on the number of penalties we’re called for.”
Their goal, of course, is to build on the success of last year, when the team competed at the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship in Greensboro. If they cut down on their mistakes,there is no reason to think they couldn’t replicate last season’s success.
“We can’t make that many mistakes or play outside of ourselves,” Bays said. “We have too many people who are trying to do too much individually and not taking what the opponent gives us. If we can play more as a team, then we’ll get back on track.”