Until recently many didn't think of UCLA as a “rugby school” or a “rugby power”. It seems with their participation in the CRC 7s that some people started to take notice of the UCLA program. Now UCLA is not just wanting to be noticed as a rugby program they are working hard to re-establish themselves as a dominate rugby program (not just out west) but nationally.
UCLA was once a dominant force in west coast college rugby (in the 60s and 70s). The many changes that the rugby program faced in the 80s impacted their rugby (such as a lack of funding, lack of visibility, focus on varsity sports, etc.) and the Bruins program lost some of it prowess.
When Scott Stewart came to take over the UCLA Rugby program it was program whose glory days seemed were behind it. It was now a recreational sport not a program. Stewart however wanted the job at UCLA! He partly wanted the job because he wanted to live in Southern California and the other, because coaching UCLA was a dream job his father (a former Canadian international). Stewart’s father had played against the Bruins back in their hay day when they were a program to be modeled.
We should note that Scott Stewart is not slouch himself. Scott Stewart was himself a Canadian international (at the age of 19) with five Rugby World Cup appearances and professional experience in Europe. He had also coached at Western Ontario University (in Canada) before he took over the UCLA program.
Coach Stewart took over the Bruins in 2004 when the program was not a power and through his commitment, knowledge, as well as the efforts of great alumni and players they have put spotlight back on the Bruins.
UCLA now competes as a great 7s program and they are now a force in the Pac 12 (really PAC 7 for rugby) and within D1-A rugby! At the time of this story the Bruins sat at number 12 in the D1-A rankings going into the Dennis Storer Classic! They are now not just one of the top programs here in California (which include Cal, St. Mary's, Cal Poly, San Diego State, Santa Clara University, Long Beach State, UC Davis, and Chico State who all were ranked last year) but nationally ranked.
We attempted to catch up with a very busy Coach Stewart to find out more on how UCLA has changed and where they are going this coming year.
Coach Stewart told us “Since I have been here, we have been able to develop the necessary relationships to help us grow the program. Our Alumni have been active members in our development as has our administration, who have been extremely proactive in helping our program continue to advance”.
The Bruins Alumni are often folks who do well (we based this on a few UCLA Rugby Alums we know who have made out well). The alumni association (Friends of Bruins Rugby) has been as Coach noted active in fundraising and providing finical support for the program. It’s cyclical if you think about it. If you win then it’s easier to get people to support your efforts which then can correlate into more success which then leads into additional, new, or continued support. The same cyclical effect is true if you loose too.
Last year may have been the year that the Bruins officially declared that they are back with an excellent 7s and 15s showing which got them some national attention. The success didn’t start last year though, it in fact has been a culmination of a number of years of hard work by all involved and growing as a team. If you watched some of the 7s and even 15s last season you saw that it was all the players clicking. Coach Stewart attributed last years’ success to the team’s effort. He said “The team worked very hard and at the same time we had the correct types of players with the correct type of experience all playing together. This year, we will have to work even harder as the squad is much younger now, but we look forward to the challenge”.
The Bruins youth however should not hinder them, as thus far they’ve played well and over the course of this season the younger squad could blossom into a national champion caliber in a year or two. “We have to continue to develop our system on and off the field so we are working as efficiently as possible” said Stewart. And that type of focus with a talented and young team could be what sets them up for success not just this year but over the next few years.
It won’t be a easy goal for the Bruins to hold a top 20 ranking all year, or to move into the top five and/or be in the hunt for a national championship, as they are in very tough conference which will have them clashing against other D1-A top 20 teams. To this Coach Stewart says “Like anything it will be a big challenge. We are going to concentrate on our own preparation and then play as hard as we can, we have to do that every day”. It will be that kind of focus and attitude that will continue to yield the Bruins success.
As fans and supporters of rugby in California it is great great to have another rugby power developing. To see UCLA reestablish itself as a national power will only benefit the game and ruggers here in California. The rise of such recognizable university and colleges as rugby powers may also help bring the game more to the mainstream which again is a benefit to us all who love and live this game.
You can learn more about the Bruin’s program by going to their website www.bruinsrugby.com. On their website is information on Coach Stewart, the Alumni group, schedules, camps (for younger players), and recruiting! Best of luck to the Bruins this season.