History Of WRFCThe 40th Anniversary of Washington Rugby Football Club (WRFC) represents a tradition of Excellence. During this time, the Club has featured some of the most talented players in the United States. Nonetheless, the rise of WRFC was not without struggle. WRFC's reputation of a team that plays hard -- and wins -- is built upon a long tradition of work and excellence. This is a tradition that the forty first edition of the WRFC aspires to continue.
1964 WRFC Team
Contrary to accepted mythology, accepted because it has erroneously been repeated, the Club was not founded in the former Peacock Bar on Wisconsin Avenue in 1777. In January 1963, an Irishman, Fred Forster, who had arrived just a short time earlier from California (to which he subsequently returned), felt keenly the absence of a local rugby club. He assumed, by coincidence correctly, that someone at the New Zealand Embassy must have played, and his call was put through to Don Hunn. They arranged a meeting on February 8, 1963 at 3340 N Street NW: To quote the first annual report, "Those attending were Fred, Burl Howard, and John Barstad of Bechtel's; Erwin Hirsch, the famous Argentine medic; Dick Strother, a spy from Baltimore; Harry Schupp, Admiral of the Fleet; Ralph Henke, who in a moment of weakness had agreed to let us meet in in his apartment and who later sobered up and went to live in New Orleans; and myself (i.e. Don Hunn)
Two weeks after this pivotal meeting, the Club was formed. On March 2, 1963, WRFC played its first game, defeating Baltimore B, 5-0. This auspicious start was followed by a win over, then a loss to Baltimore A, and successive wins over Penn State and First Troop (Philadelphia). Clearly, this pace could not last, and it did not. Our pioneering ruggers in the Nation's Capital then lost nine successive games before they managed to draw against Richmond on November 2, 1963. The first year's record 6-1-11, was not bad. The 1963 game in which Gerry Fenton forced his way over the Richmond goal line and "didn't know enough just to fall over and put the ball on the ground" is suitably recorded - suitably, because Gerry is still playing with the Club. The Club's colors were established as royal blue and white and, on October 6, 1963, WRFC became an associate member of the Eastern Rugby Union of America (ERU).
In the second year, the Club expanded its schedule to include games against Boston, Ottawa, Westchester (NY) and St. Joseph's (Philadelphia). The record was 12-2-8. Charley Meade was President, Don Hunn returned to New Zealand and presented the "New Zealand Cup" for annual competition between Washington and Baltimore. The playing roster was 67 and there were 10 social members. The colors were changed to solid blue because too many teams wore striped jerseys, and the Club became a full member of ERU.
Washington, through prime mover Dave Rusk, along with Baltimore RFC, helped to shape what today is the Potomac Rugby Union. In 1963, they helped establish a club at the Naval Academy and pushed for the formation of clubs at Georgetown and the University of Maryland, as well as some other early (now defunct) clubs. It was in the late 60's that the rivalry with Old Blue RFC of New York City originated. It can be noted that this rivalry, perhaps above all others, is the most colorful and storied of WRFC's first thirty years.
During these years, Washington witnessed the tremendous growth of rugby in the U.S.. The ERU, formed in 1934 to provide structure for selecting a training side to play Cambridge University on its tour of the U.S., was comprised of just a few clubs, and this remained the case until the mid 60's when slow growth had brought ERU membership to 29 clubs. In the late 60's , U.S. rugby exploded and the numbers began climbing inexorably towards the present approximately 590 Eastern clubs (190 in the newly formed Mid-Atlantic RFU (MARFU), 1,420 nationally). Along the way, local unions were formed. The late 60's and early 70's also found the emergence of the Eastern Penn, Met New York, Virginia Unions, and the Potomac Rugby Union, in 1972. In 1975, the four regional territorial unions of the U.S. (East, Midwest, West an Pacific) reached an agreement to form a national union (USARFU) which has flourished since then.
In the 60's, the few clubs on the East Coast found it difficult to raise their standard of play; occasional visits by English clubs, such as Richmond and Rosslyn Park, merely served to emphasize the problem. The University of Virginia RFC set up the Commonwealth Cup Tournament as one way of promoting better competition and, in 1967, the WRFC followed with the Cherry Blossom Festival Tournament, which eventually included sides from the U.K.. Through the years, the Cherry Blossom has received recognition and has become one of the most respected tournaments in North America. With the Cherry Blossom started, the Club then decided to start a "sevens" tournament, which was held annually in the Fall until 1983.
The early to mid 70's brought WRFC team and individual prominence not experienced before. The "First Golden Period" began in 1971 when the Club posted a 16-1 spring season record and won the Blume Trophy, at the time the ERU's recognition of the top club in the union. In 1972, the Club earned the best PRU record and was awarded the Familton/ Green Union Trophy and the Australia Cup. In 1974 the Club again won the Blume Trophy, and the ERU Championship, compiling a 14-1 record. In other seasons throughout the mid 70's the won/loss records were equally impressive. In the late 70s, the PRU grew extensively and the quality of rugby in the area increased considerably. By this time, Washington had lost much of its dominance, but was still able to capture the PRU titles in 1977 and 1979. During this period, several WRFC players first earned recognition as ERU All Stars and US Eagles for their outstanding contributions, including Mike Conroy, Michael Lancaster, Dan Wack, Tom Smith, Eagle Manager and Coach Ken Wood and WRFC, PRU, ERU and US Eagle Captain, Rob Bordley. At one point, WRFC provided the ERU midfield backs, with Bordley, Collier, Smith, Wack and Conroy.
The Club's "Second Golden Period" began with an undefeated 1984 PRU season. Coupled with equally impressive tournament play, the Club reestablished itself as the PRU powerhouse. From 1985 to 1993 the Club continued its winning ways in tournament and local play, reigning throughout as PRU Champion. The Club remained unbeaten in matrix games, through 56 wins, until the Fall 1990 season.
The rise to rugby predominance began what has been called Washington's "Platinum Period". In Spring, 1986, Washington won the ERU Mid-Atlantic Group II's and advanced to the ERU Championship. In its final poll for 1986, Rugby Magazine ranked Washington as #1 in the East. In 1987, WRFC won the MARFU, but again lost in the ERU Championships. However, this year was especially memorable for the Club because a 29 man side traveled to Ireland and went undefeated (3-0-1). Meanwhile, twenty of our remaining players amazingly captured the annual St. Patricks Day Tournament. For the first time ever, WRFC was undefeated in the Spring and Fall seasons in regular club matches.
Washington was likewise predominant in ERU play. Because of a change in national scheduling in 1988, Washington had a chance to clinch the ERU Championship twice. While winning at the first go in the Spring and placing third in the Nation, WRFC fell short in the second attempt. Recovering the next year, Washington once again repeated, winning the ERU and placing third at the 1990 National Championship in Denver, setting a two match scoring record for the Final Four Championship that still stands.
While 1990 brought Washington its only PRU loss in 10 years, the Club was able to put it behind them. WRFC was awarded the PRU Championship and advanced to the ERU's. Playing inspired rugby, the Club marched on to win the title, guaranteeing another shot in the National Championship, this time in San Diego in May 1991. The Club was flat in the semi finals against a large, hard rucking, Chicago Lions side, but managed to edge them; but lost in the Finals to OMBAC on a last minute penalty kick 9-12, WRFC scoring the only try of the match. Since then, the Club has advanced to the MARFU Group II finals three times (1991-1993), only to lose to Wild Card entrant PAC in the finals each time. In 1994, Washington gained the Northern Premier League playoffs but bowed out early -- youthful lack of "big game" performance getting the best of us. Kiwi coach Geoff Cook lead a resurgent WRFC back in 1995, developing talent and instilling the will to win. Finishing 3 points from an undefeated league season, WRFC is the early favorite to win the MARFU title in the Spring and return to the National Finals.
Fine-tuning for their Final Four appearance, WRFC toured California in the Spring of 1991 and captured the 25th Cherry Blossom Tournament. In May, the club traveled to San Diego for Nationals where they defeated the large, hard-rucking Chicago Lions in the semifinal but lost to OMBAC on it's home pitch, 12-9, in Washington's only appearance in the USARFU Club Championship Final. While a bitter defeat (WRFC lost on a late penalty kick. They scored the only try and out-gunned OMBAC in many facets of the match), the weekend earned WRFC much recognition as possibly the best club in the Nation in the four-year period, 1988-1991.
For the next several years, WRFC continued their winning ways in tournaments and in local union play, but did not return to the again to the National Championships as the Eastern representatives. Several years, WRFC advanced to the finals of the ERU Group II's as PRU champions (1991-1994). In 1994, WRFC competed in the Northern Premier League (a short-lived predesessor to the MARFU formation) playoffs and finished 3 points from an undefeated PRU league season in 1995. That year, WRFC became a founding member (along with fellow PRU, VRU and EPRU clubs) of the Mid Atlantic Football Union, captured the Division I club title, and advanced in May, 1996 to the USARFU quarterfinals in Chicago. WRFC defeated Midwestern Champion Milwaukee and battled San Francisco's Golden Gate RFC, before succumbing in the second half. 1996 also saw WRFC be invited to join the 12-club Rugby Super League L.L.C. (RSL), to bolster competition among elite American rugby clubs.
In 1997, the RSL started play and Washington placed fourth, earning the runner-up title of the Eastern Division. In 1998, WRFC captured the Cherry Blossom and the Rites of Spring (two divisions) tournaments. In 1999, WRFC re-gained some of their winning ways of the early 90's, taking the Cherry Blossom tournament, while finishing as the runner-up again in the Rugby Super League Eastern division but advancing to the RSL Final Four. In the Fall, WRFC captured the PRU title and their first MARFU championship.
The late 1980's and 1990's saw a number of WRFC players earn prestigious individual honors. Numerous players represented Washington on PRU, ERU, MARFU and U.S. Maccabiah All Star sides in 15's and 7's during this period. Additionally, Wayne Howe, Simon Bowyer, Duncan Wood and George "GJ" Sucher were on the winning PRU side at the USARFU Local Union Championships in 1994. Fullback Paul Sheehy became WRFC's first U.S. Eagle representative to compete on a Rugby World Cup side in the 1991. In 1999, prop G.J. Sucher represented the Eagles at the World Cup. Prop Gerry McDonald earned several caps in 1988-'89 and in 1996. Fullback Bill Bernhard, prop Rob Blackmore, center Chris Doherty and hooker John Robbins all earned international caps in the late 1980's. Lock Kevin Swords earned a number of caps in 1985 and 1986 with WRFC. Swords held the record for "most-capped" Eagle forward until recently. Seven-a-side specialists Al Dekin, Rory Lewis, Scott Stephens and Mike Coyner earned Eagles honors in the 1990's. Lock/flanker Dan Lyle earned several junior and senior Eagle caps in 1993 while with Washington before switching domestic clubs. Lyle went on to earn a professional contract with Bath RFC, the captaincy of the Eagles and an appearance with the world-famous Barbarians invitational side. Presently, Lyle plays professionally with Leicester Tigers RFC in England and anchors the Eagle pack as the U.S. competes in the 2003 Rugby World Cup this month in Australia. Flyhalf, Francois Viljoen, who currently runs the WRFC attack, is a USA Eagle and has gained caps for the U.S. versus Russia in the Rugby World Cup qualifier, played against the New Zealand Mauris, Canada and France.
Since 2000, Washington has continued to put the pieces back in place to compete and win titles at the highest levels. In 2002, the Rugby Super League, L.L.C. members/owners voted to become an official part of USARFU. With USARFU administering the competition, the RSL has become the highest level of competition in United States Rugby. Under USARFU's direction, RSL has gained additional exposure and sponsorship. In 2003, WRFC traveled to Scotland, to the Hillsfoot Rugby Football Club to gain a victory against the local club and witness 6 Nations play between Scotland and Ireland. It is with this commitment to rugby excellence that WRFC looks towards the future. 2003 marked a strong Sevens season as the Blue & White of WRFC won MARFU and placed 5th at Nationals. With new players and coaches, including Head Coach Bernie Hogan, WRFC strives to climb back on top.