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MSU Men's Rugby Club team off to a hot start

By Michael Duke, 10/18/17, 10:30AM EDT

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What Michigan State team plays on a field, tackle opposing players with the ball, and currently undefeated in BIG Ten play? 

If you guessed the football team, you’re wrong. Well technically you’re right, but in this instance at least, you’re wrong. The rugby team is the correct answer here.

The MSU Men’s Rugby Football Club team is now 3-0 on the season after a dominant 26-0 win over Michigan last Friday in Ann Arbor. 

Although the team has a completely new coaching staff from last year, Mike Gieselman, team captain and vice president said this year’s squad is the strongest in the four years he has played with the club. Gieselman credits the team’s success to their stellar cohesion and conditioning. 

“I think a lot of it has to do with team chemistry, and also we’re just insanely fit,” Gieselman said. 

“Our coach runs us into the ground everyday, but it really pays off,” he added. “A lot of our victories have come from us just being fitter than the other team.” 

Team President Michael Nyland said the fitness and conditioning element of the sport is what mainly drove him to continue to play rugby in college after doing so in high school.

“In football you have a lot of contact but there’s always a break after everything,” Nyland said. “Rugby is like soccer, it’s just like a continuous game, and I think that’s just the best of both worlds for me.”

Football and soccer aren’t the only sports that share similarities with rugby. While it might not be as obvious to a casual fan, Gieselman said rugby also draws comparisons from other sports such as basketball and even wrestling, due to the similar techniques and game plans that are implemented.

“A lot of the defensive schemes and the way that we run our offense are kind of like the strategies similar to basketball,” Gieselman said. “Even wrestling comes in because tackles are more like double leg takedowns rather than bull rushing through someone.” 

But for obvious reasons, like running with a ball and tackling, rugby draws the strongest comparisons to football. One key difference between the two sports, however, is that in rugby players don’t use helmets.

Considering that rugby involves players colliding with each other, this no helmet rule might give you the impression that it’s more dangerous than football. But that’s not quite the case.

Nyland said that although not wearing a helmet in rugby might make the sport seem more threatening in comparison to football, it’s what makes the game safer.

“If I have a helmet on and pads, I’m more likely to just dive at a guy and throw my body at them; where as in rugby there is much more technique involved,” Nyland said.

MSU Men’s Rugby competes at the Division 1A level, the highest level of USA collegiate rugby; and has recorded blowout wins over Minnesota and Illinois this season. 

Their full seasons are broken up into a fall season called Fall 15’s, where there are 15 players on each side and 80 minute games are played; and a spring season called Spring 7’s, where there are seven players on each side and the team participates in tournaments consisting of shorter games with only seven minute halves.

Gieselman said being a part of the rugby team has had a huge impact on his social life at MSU, as he has been able to establish close relationships with his teammates over the years.

“I really like the whole team aspect of it,” Gieselman said. “Nothing compares to finding that group that you know you fit in with, and forming those relationships and having those friendships.”