Annapolis, Md. – Navy men’s rugby begins its inaugural season as a varsity program with a non-conference matchup versus The Citadel on Saturday, at 4 p.m. at the Prusmack Rugby Complex.

“We could not be more excited for our inaugural varsity game this weekend against The Citadel. As we take our first steps as a varsity team, our challenge to ourselves is how good can this team be,” said head coach Gavin Hickie. “We are working to build depth in a number of key positions within the team, but we have been very encouraged by the enthusiasm and work ethic of some of our walk-ons who are eager to show what they can do. We have a squad full of guys who are desperate to perform for Navy rugby and lead the way as Navy’s first varsity rugby team.”

Credit: Navy Athletics

Historic Program
Although this will be the first year Navy rugby competes as a varsity sport, the program has a proud history as a club sport that began in 1963. Since its founding, the Midshipmen have had 42 USA Rugby All-Americans and was the D-1 runner-up in 1994. One of the top players in program history was Connor McNerney, who won the 2018 Rudy Scholz Award for the best collegiate rugby player in the United States.

Gavin Hickie Profile
Gavin Hickie has served as the director of rugby and head coach of the men’s team since 2017. In his five years at the helm, he has a record of 40-13 and has led the Mids to 10 or more wins three times.

Hickie is a native of Dublin, Ireland, and graduated from the University College Dublin in 2003. His playing career began with Leinster, where he helped the team win the Celtic League in 2001. He also competed for the London Irish RFC, the Worcester Warriors, and the Leicester Tigers, where he was a part of the team that won the 2007 Guinness Premiership.

His coaching career began in 2007 at the high school level as a forwards coach for Leicester Academy. After serving as an assistant coach for the Belmont Shore Rugby Football Club, Hickie accepted his first head coaching position at Woodrow Wilson High School. He went on to the collegiate level in 2012, becoming the head coach at Dartmouth University. Hickie led the Big Green to Ivy League Championships in 15s and 7s in all five seasons at the helm. The team made the Varsity Cup Quarterfinals (15s) in 2013, ’14, and ’16. Dartmouth also won the CRC (7s) in 2012 and advanced to the quarterfinals from 2013-16.  Additionally, Dartmouth won the USA Rugby 7s in 2012 and placed third in 2013.

Hickie is also the author of Rugby Revealed (published by Bloomsbury), one of the best-selling rugby books on Amazon.

Rugby East Conference
Navy competes in the Rugby East Conference, where it took second a season ago. The league is made up of 11 teams (Army, Kutztown, Mary Washington, Mount St. Mary’s, Navy, Notre Dame College, Penn State, Queens, Southern Virginia, St. Bonaventure, Virginia Tech) and is broken into north and south divisions. Teams have opportunities to earn points during each conference matchup to determine their standing at the end of the season. A team is awarded four points for a win, two for a tie, and zero for a loss. Teams can also earn one bonus point per match by scoring four or more tries or losing by seven points or less.

The champion of each division receives an automatic invitation to the postseason. The two teams with the next-highest overall point total, regardless of division, will receive the next two playoff invitations. In the event of a tie, the winner will be determined by, 1. who wins the head-to-head meeting, 2. number of bonus points scored, and 3. final point differential.

Rugby Laws
A rugby match consists of two 40-minute halves with 15 players on each team. Teams attempt to score tries (like a touchdown in football) by running the ball over the try line (like the end zone in football) and setting down the ball. Teams are awarded five points for every try. The scoring team will then attempt to kick a conversion through the uprights of the goal post from where the try was scored for an additional two points. Teams also have an opportunity to score three points on a field goal when a penalty is called.

Although it’s similar to football, rugby is different as play is continuous. Players can run, pass or kick the ball, but may only pass the ball backward and the defending team can only tackle the player with the ball. All players play both attack and defense throughout the game.

Rugby Positions
Each team has 15 players on the field. Players wear jerseys numbered 1-15 depending on their position. Numbers 1-8 are known as the forwards and numbers 9-15 are known as the backs. The forwards compete in scrums and lineouts, while the backs are typically faster and more elusive players.

  • Loosehead Prop (#1): In the front row of scrums with his head to the outside of the opposing tighthead prop.
  • Hooker (#2): In the front row of scrums and hooks for the ball. Usually throws the ball in the lineouts.
  • Tighthead Prop (#3): In the front row of scrums with his head in between the opposition hooker and loosehead prop. Usually the strongest player on the team.
  • Number 4 Lock (#4): Usually one of the taller players and competes for the ball at lineouts.
  • Number 5 Lock (#5): Usually one of the taller players and competes for the ball at lineouts.
  • Blindside Flanker (#6): On the short side of the scrum. Usually a big tackler and ball carrier.
  • Openside Flanker (#7): One of the quickest forwards and one of the biggest work rates.
  • 8 Man (#8): Usually the biggest ball carrier on the team. Also a dominant tackler.
  • Scrum Half (#9): Puts the ball into the scrum and passes the ball away from every ruck.
  • Fly Half (#10): The decision maker on the team. The position that calls all the plays on the team.
  • Left Wing (#11): One of the fastest players on the team.
  • Inside Center (#12): Usually a big ball carrier and dominant tackler.
  • Outside Center (#13): Usually a big ball carrier and dominant tackler.
  • Right Wing (#14): One of the fastest players on the team.
  • Fullback (#15): Usually a counter-attacking threat and the last line of defense.

Meet the Captains
Coach Gavin Hickie appointed seniors Jack McMahonLewis GrayDale Sturdifen and Matthew Thibodaux as captains for the 2022 season.

Jack McMahon | 8-Man | Sr. | Orland Park, Ill.
“Jack has been a mainstay on the team since his youngster year and has grown into the leader of the team. A hard worker, great lineout jumper and dominant tackler, Jack leads from the front and provides a calming presence to the rest of the team,” said Hickie.

Lewis Gray | Fly Half | Sr. | Jupiter, Fla.
“Lewis is the decision maker on the team and probably the most skilled player in the Navy squad. His passing off both hands is very accurate and he possesses an outstanding kicking game. Lewis is the heartbeat of the team,” said Hickie.

Dale Sturdifen | Wing | Sr. | Clarksville, Va.
“Dale is an electric and aggressive wing. We try to get the ball in Dale’s hands as often as possible as he always gets the team on the front foot. Dale is a dangerous attacking player and given any space will punish the opposition defense,” said Hickie.

Matthew Thibodaux | Prop | Sr. | Natchitoches, La.
“Matthew is the strongest player on the team and is our lynchpin at scrum time. He is a ferocious tackler and a big ball carrier. One of the smartest guys and hardest-hitting guys on the team,” said Hickie.

Up Next
The Mids will stay in Annapolis next week for their first conference matchup of the season versus Southern Virginia. Kickoff is set for Saturday, Sept. 10 at 1 p.m.

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