WEST NEWBURY — After coming together as a team across the pond and learning the details of a sport they would grow to love, the Essex County Youth Rugby Bulldogs are the Massachusetts High School Club Division Champions for the third year in a row.
“We have a youth program that starts at 6 years old and goes to high school-level players,” said boys U-19 head coach Dave Hill. “One of our players, who broke his collarbone last week, was with us since the program started in 2009. The rest of the players over the past few years were new and worked their way up because of their athleticism and their ability to pick up on the intellectual aspect of the game.”
The Bulldogs are made up of 34 players from surrounding high schools including Triton, Amesbury, Pentucket, Masconomet, Pentucket, Whittier and Hamilton-Wenham.
Hill, who has since developed inexperienced players into a team of state champions for three consecutive years, saw his team struggle early before beginning to blow teams away.
After a 1-4 beginning, including a loss to Berkshire Rugby Football Club, the Bulldogs took to England to learn the game and experience an environment in which the sport is of premier importance.
“They had a week in London where they learned how it’s done,” Hill said. “We learned how to get better and we all came together as a team. We were sitting at Windsor Castle looking out the windows, and all you could see down the hill was rugby fields. I walked over to one of the guys, Danny Norton, who is the heart of our team, and said that there are no baseball or football or soccer fields. It’s all rugby, a sport that is just loved in England. By seeing that, they realized that they’re part of a bigger sport than it is here in America, and it created more of a love of the sport for them.”