Winning the state title has become a spring-time tradition for the Greenwich High School rugby team, which has won 10 straight championships.
The Cardinals, of course, hope to continue their reign of supremacy in Connecticut this season, but they also have another huge goal in mind.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship,” Greenwich coach Joe Kelly said. “Everything we do is based on winning the national championship. This will be our sixth time in a row going to the national championships, so we hope to win it this year.”
Last season saw the Cardinals post a 14-3 record while winning the state championship by defeating Simsbury in the tournament’s final. At the 2017 High School National Rugby Championships in Kansas City, Mo., Greenwich went 2-1 and placed fifth. Due to their successful season last spring, the Cardinals have already been chosen to compete at this year’s national championships, which again will be held in Kansas City, Mo. They are the only team from Connecticut to be invited to play in the event, which includes only 12 premier squads from around country.
The Cardinals’ season has already begun, as they rolled to a 61-7 victory against visiting Bishop Hendrickson from Rhode Island last Saturday. Greenwich is ranked fifth in the country among high school teams.
“They were a strong team, but our skill and talent took us to a level above their level,” Kelly said of his team’s season-opener. “We recognized their flaws as the game went on and we took advantage of those flaws. Our forwards and backs played very well and our scoring was evenly distributed.”
Here’s a look at this season’s Cardinals.
AT THE HELM: Kelly is in his eighth season as coach. His first seven seasons resulted in seven state championships. Greenwich captured the state title last season with a 52-40 victory over Simsbury in the final at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. He replaced Steve Lapham in 2011, after Lapham guided the program for 19 seasons.
The coaching staff includes assistants Glenn Fox, Mike Schacter, Mike Fina, Joe Kelly Jr. and Gareth Gibbs. Kelly Jr., the coach’s son, who was a standout player on the Cardinals during his high school days, and Gibbs are newcomers to the staff.
WHO’S GONE?: Patrick McTiernan, Alex Nanai, Kevin Iobbi, Ian Pearson and Connor Weigold, all of whom contributed greatly to the Cards’ success the past several seasons, were senior captains of last year’s championship team.
CAPTAINS: Finbar Doyle, John Duffy, Nick McIntosh, Eddie Schmidt, Bennett Tiedy and Sebastiano Villani are the captains this spring.
Villani, who plays scrumhalf, scored two tries in Greenwich’s state championship win over Simsbury last season. He is currently in England for trying out for a professional rugby team and will rejoin the Cardinals soon.
McIntosh, who was also one of the captains of the Cardinals’ football team, brings size and strength to the squad. Schmidt has made several select rugby teams and is primed to have as Kelly said, “a breakout season.” Doyle (also a football captain), Tiedy and Duffy provide leadership, experience and skill at the halfback position.
ALSO HELPING TEAM USA: Francisco Liguori, a sophomore who plays flyhalf and fullback, will be among the numerous other players that will aid the Cardinals offensively. He made USA Rugby’s National 7s U18 and recently competed with the squad at a tournament in Las Vegas.
STRENGTHS: The Cardinals should be able to wear down most of their opponents due to the tremendous depth they possess. More than 60 players went out for the varsity squad this season.
“We are good at the forward position, with explosive forwards,” Kelly said. “We also have a lot of backs, so we have a lot of depth there. Right now, it’s important for us to get the former JV or younger guys acclimated to playing at the varsity level and making sure they are ready for the challenges we will face this season.”
SHOWDOWNS: Greenwich’s showdown against arch rival Xavier (N.Y.) is scheduled for April 27 at Cardinal Stadium at 7 p.m. Their schedule also includes matchups against PRUSA (home, March 24) Aspetuck (away, April 7), Fairfield Prep (home, April 21), Simsbury (away, May 5) and Staples (home, May 11). The team will travel to Kansas City, Mo., for the High School National Rugby Championships, which are May 15-20.