The University of Georgia’s oldest club sport is ushering in a new era.
A new head coach will be at the helm when the UGA Rugby Football Club opens their season this Saturday against in-conference rival South Carolina. Scott Littlejohn is now running practice drills with the experienced Georgia team that lists a number of upperclassmen on its roster.
Focused weeknight evenings of physical exertion are mandatory to condition the Bulldogs for the intense 80 minutes of a typical rugby match. Rugby demands the stamina to sprint down the field and the strength to be taken down by a defender and bounce right back up afterward.
Despite rugby’s challenging nature, it doesn’t demand its players wear pads.
“Especially when you’re playing fifteens [traditional rugby], it’s a much more physical game,” senior rugby player Joel Larsen said. “It’s just constant hitting.”
Georgia rugby’s new head coach doesn’t shy away from these hits. Littlejohn won’t be found standing on the sidelines observing drills during practice. Instead, he often places himself in the middle of the action, running plays at full speed alongside his athletes.
A native of New Zealand, Littlejohn comes to Athens with over 40 years of rugby experience. Picking up a ball for the first time at just five years old, Littlejohn later attended Life University in Marietta, Georgia, where he led the rugby team to a 94-12 record from 1995 to 1999. Littlejohn then headed three other American rugby teams prior to coming to Georgia this year.
Upon meeting the Bulldogs just two weeks ago, Littlejohn found himself impressed with the team’s evident pride in their school and rugby program. One of his primary goals for this Saturday is to maintain that mindset on the field.
“We’ve got to have pride in our jersey, pride in our school,” he said.
Littlejohn acknowledges that the team is still adjusting to his methods of teaching and that he is still getting to know the team himself. The Bulldogs have had just four practices led by their new coach thus far.
Regardless, Littlejohn expects his team to go out and give it their all this weekend against South Carolina, a tough challenger and fellow SEC opponent.
“I just want them to go and give it 100, play well, give it their best,” Littlejohn said. “From that point, I can see what we need to work on.”
Combining the excitement of Littlejohn’s arrival with the skillset of a veteran team, the Bulldogs have high hopes for a successful year on the pitch.
“It’s coming up,” junior rugby player Mike Runyan said. “This season could be it for us.”