On Aug. 29 and 31, Georgetown University Men’s Rugby Football Club hosted two coaches, Grant Keenan and Tony Flay, from the most successful rugby team in New Zealand: The Crusaders. The team, based out of Christchurch, has won 12 Super League titles, the most in the competition’s history, including the past two tournaments. At the upcoming Rugby World Cup next month, eight members of New Zealand’s national team, the iconic All Blacks, are current Crusaders players. Such high-caliber coaching may seem out of place with men’s rugby, which is only a club sport at Georgetown, but the team’s classification belies just how successful it has been in recent years.
Despite its club status, the rugby team represents the University at varsity level competing in Division II of the National Collegiate Rugby Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference. The team is only allocated two training slots a week by the university at one hour and thirty minutes each and encounters constant challenges, ranging from a lack of consistent travel vehicles to floodlights going off mid-practice. Regardless, Club Rugby has enjoyed major success in recent years, including multiple conference titles and a national championship semifinal.
For Georgetown men’s club rugby head coach Arno van der Spek, who is entering his tenth year at the team’s helm, the honor of hosting world-class coaches cannot be understated.
“For us, it’s immense, right? Stuff gets stale quickly, trends change, so we need to keep up with it and learning from the best with these guys, it’s a great asset,” van der Spek said in an interview with The Hoya.
The week with the Crusaders’ coaches was a perfect introduction to those in the squad new to rugby while still providing valuable lessons for the more experienced players. Flay, a former New Zealand youth international and USA national team player, and Keenan, head of Crusaders International Academy and USA national team skills coach, lent their years of expertise by leading a mix of drills focused on fundamentals as well as coaching attacking and defensive shape.
Both emphasized that success most often stems from having a good club off the field as well as a good team on it.
“The game of rugby and in any sport, is not on the field; it’s off the field. It’s the camaraderie that you create with each other,” Keenan said.
Keenan, also a coach with the 2017 Women’s World Cup-winning ‘Black Ferns’, has consistently maintained certain values in the teams he’s overseen.
“We were well connected as a team and we cared for each other and those two words are very important, care and connection, and I think when you’ve got those in your environment, you’re on your way to creating a very good team,” Keenan said in an interview with The Hoya.
Georgetown men’s club rugby captain Kurt Jensen (CAS ’24) emphasized the value of the coaches’ decades of rugby coaching and playing experience to Georgetown’s team going forward.
“Professional clinics like these are critical to our growth and development as a club as we continue to compete for a national championship,” Jensen wrote in a message to The Hoya.
Club rugby took its newfound knowledge from the first two training sessions with Flay and Keenan into its opening preseason tournament on September 2nd, where they emerged victorious against James Madison University 38-19, Hampton-Sydney College 10-0 and George Mason University 50-15. Its first game of the season will be at home to Drexel on September 16.