Mustang ruggers await Irish spring
FROSTED HEARTS, RED BALLONS, GREEN CLOVERS, BLUE DIAMONDS, PURPLE HORSESHOES. . . Mustang Dave Bergeron and his teammates will get to taste all the colours of the rainbow this spring when they visit Ireland.
By Alex ChiangGazette Staff
Western's male rugby players will get a closer taste of Ireland than any shot of Bailey's could provide. In the last week of February, the team will travel to the land of leprechauns to spend 11 days in a country where the sport is virtually a religion.
Of the 40 people going on the tour, this trip holds special meaning for Gerry Slattery, Western's head coach. Being of Irish descent, Slattery led the Mustangs to the OUAA semi-finals in his first season as coach. Although he has already returned to Ireland with a squad made up of London high-school players, this will be the first sanctioned trip for a Western rugby team outside of Canada.
"I want to expose our players to some good competition and to a place where there is a rugby culture," Slattery said. "But I also hope they get a better picture of Ireland as opposed to that portrayed by the media."
Western's first match will be against one of Slattery's former teams, the Richmond Rugby Club, for which his brother is the head coach. The game will be played in Limerick, considered to be the rugby capital of Ireland.
The trip also includes a tour provided by an ex-Irish national player, Tony Ward and a visit to Lansdowne Road National Rugby Stadium, the oldest rugby stadium in the world. Before departing, Western will play exhibition games against the University College Cork in Dublin, Queen's University in Belfast and the University of Limerick.
"Hopefully the players will learn to understand my personality and how I see the game," Slattery said. "It should help Western's rugby program and bring the players together."
In terms of skill development the younger players on the Mustang squad should benefit the most from this excursion.
"Since it's such a short season, it's a good chance for us to bond," rookie Jim Fogarty said. "It'll also be my first time travelling outside of North America and it should be interesting to go to a place where rugby is the number 1 sport."
Veteran forward Joel Palmer feels that offering opportunities to play in other countries will make the Western rugby program more attractive to rugby players coming out of high school.
"It's a good tool for recruiting players and should make some good rugby players want to come to Western," Palmer said.
The trip will cost each player $1,500, the majority of which will come from their own finances, with the rest coming from fund-raising. A snow rugby tournament, an auction and a raffle are being considered.
Western's rugby team will not be the only Mustang squad to travel overseas this year, as the football team will head to Japan to play against a an all-star team from that country in May.