By Justin Rutledge | 05.18.15
(The original rendition of this article incorrectly said the Cleveland Rovers and Cleveland Rugby Club were merging. The Cleveland Rovers intend to keep their name alive and play DIII.)
In the world of sports there are rivalries that develop between teams. In Cleveland, Ohio there was a strong rivalry between the two teams that call the city home – the Cleveland Rugby Club and the Cleveland Rovers. Many players from both clubs have joined forces in an effort to achieve heights of success neither team was able to reach prior.
The idea is far from a novel one. The plan is to have two competitive sides under a single club competing in two different divisions, to pool the strengths of the two clubs into one entity, not unlike the creation of the Milwaukee Barbarians a couple of years back. One stumbling block both teams ran into during the competitive season was the inability to hang with tough teams like the Detroit Tradesmen for a full 80-minute match. With the bulk of players from both teams converging, the newly-formed side should have the manpower necessary to get these elusive wins while getting all the players on the same page and competitive level.
“Combining teams will create competition, accountability and development,” said Nick Viviani, captain of the Cleveland Rugby Club. “The main idea is that we will not have a so-called B team who get to play maybe 20-minute halves or ten-on-ten after the A side game. Now will we have full two sides where everyone can play for a championship.”
“We want to win immediately,” said Terry Kilbane, who comes from the Cleveland Rovers. “If we succeed, in the long-term we will have created a home for elite rugby in Cleveland that will make a venue for all of the elite-level talent we are developing here in Cleveland.”
The new team is an idea that has been attempted in earlier iterations of the clubs but the union ultimately failed. Old rivalries and hard feelings got in the way of previous attempts, but with the climate of rugby’s popularity in the country and the connections shared among players in each of the clubs bode well for this most recent attempt.
“This is not the first time this has been attempted,” Kilbane said. “However, change is the only constant and I think now is the time for that change to come to Cleveland rugby. We have people that want to build an institution, not a temporary super team. This will be built to last from the start.”
“Most have the players on each team are former BGSU rugby players,” Viviani said. “That connection between the leaders of the teams is undeniable. There used to be a huge rivalry game against the clubs. That is not the case anymore. With that myth being in the past, all players are willing to make it happen. Just because something didn’t work 30 years ago doesn’t mean it’s not going to work now.”
This merger is more than an attempt to defeat Detroit and make deeper runs into the playoff scene. According to Viviani and Kilbane, who started their rugby careers playing for Mentor and Saint Edward high schools, respectively, this move is an attempt to make Cleveland a destination for top-level talent. The hope is that this move will enable Cleveland to vie more effectively for top-level college talent as they move into the senior club ranks and make a name for the city on the senior rugby scene.
“I know the city is capable or producing high level rugby,” Viviani said. “I want to play the highest level I can, as well as bring a high-level program to Cleveland. High school and college players won’t need to travel to other cities to play at a high level.”
“I hope this will put Cleveland into the forefront of American rugby where it belongs,” Kilbane said. “A lot of people have been working very hard. With some luck and hard work, this could be the beginning of our era.”
The merger will become a competitive reality this summer when the newly-minted team will compete in the Midwest summer 7s series. There will be one team competing for a spot at Nationals and another on the social circuit.