Written by Conner Wise
With Adrian College having more than 50 sports teams that students can get involved in, Athletic Director Michael Duffy announced last fall that Rugby would be added as a varsity sport in the Fall of 2021. From the great recruitment, the hard work that head coach Benny Mateialona has put in, and the excited athletes, the Adrian College Men’s Rugby program is going to make an impact on other collegiate rugby teams.
The Bulldogs have already played two very big competitors in the conference and are looking promising for the rest of the season. With their first win being over the Wolverines at the University of Michigan, Adrian set the tone for their future here winning 12 to 10 with Alexander Tautua’a (freshman) and Michael Pakofe (freshman) both scoring while Samuel Williams (sophomore) converting both extra-point conversions.
The next week, the Michigan State Spartans headed over to Docking Stadium at Adrian College where the Bulldogs showed their talent, beating the Spartans 41 to 12. After speaking to head coach Benny Matiealona, this victory was a lot more than just another game for him. Matiealona used to coach for the Michigan State rugby team for half a season before he came to Adrian College. Matiealona says, “I knew some of the guys on Michigan State because I used to coach them, so it was nice to see how far they have come.” In the first quarter, the Spartans took an early lead 12 to 0, before Sam Williams could put it in right before the half. The Spartans could not respond like the Bulldogs did, and did not score any more points throughout the game and Adrian eventually tacked on 29 points in the second half.
Sam Williams came to Adrian College for volleyball but is originally from New Zealand where rugby is an iconic sport. Sam had not played rugby since he left his hometown and after speaking to him regarding the win, one of his favorite parts about the match was the bulldog crowd that cheered them on the entire game. Sam says “Personally, I was shocked with the amount of people that came out to support us. Rugby is still relatively new in the USA and it’s awesome that so many people at Adrian College are interested in it.” Sam later went on stating, “I think the whole team got a massive confidence boost for that game which helped us to put up a great score against a nationally ranked division 1 team.” Sam hopes that as the season goes on, the rugby team can continuously bring in big crowds and continue to expose as many people to rugby as they can.
Although the Bulldogs have already had their victories against two very good nationally ranked teams, they still have their work cut out for them for the next seven games. Some of their biggest competitors are the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame, Central Michigan University, and probably the most sought-after game of the season: Grand Valley State University.
I asked Coach Mateialona what games he was most excited for this season with his response being Michigan State and Grand Valley University. Mateialona said, “Grand Valley State is the top team to beat in our conference. They usually win the championship every year in our conference, so I am looking forward to facing them.” The Great Lakes conference consists of all different division teams across the state of Michigan and are composed of top athletes around the nation. After the U of M game, Mateialona stated that his players were pumped up after making history. Mateialona said, “The guys were excited, but at the same time we have to continue the path of fundamentals and running our system.” This is where coach Matiealona sets himself apart from other coaches. After accomplishing something that has never been done before, he does not want to showboat it but instead, stay humble and focus on what is next to come which gives his players the determination and work ethic to compete against any nationally-ranked teams.
Starting a new program at any university or college is very challenging on any level and that was one of the hardest aspects Coach Matiealona faced. He wanted to start off with the right platform here so the program could grow and nourish itself. Recruiting for rugby in the United States is a lot easier said than done as Matiealona expressed but looking at the Adrian College Rugby roster shows otherwise with players from Utah, California, Hawaii, and even Argentina.
Team captain Nicholas Andiarena, who is from Utah, has a bit more experience in rugby. Andiarena played in Major League Rugby in Utah before coming to Adrian College. The Bulldogs stood out to him compared to some of the other high professional teams he has played for. Nick said, “Our team does not have any cliques. We all just meshed together from the get-go and I think we all came here for the great programs that the college offers,” he said.
While the team is off to a great start, the facility and field is also on the agenda to get started this fall and completed in the spring of 2022. President Docking and the administration are working hard to get this facility going and once it is completed, it will be located off Beecher Street.
With a strong record of 2-0 already, coach Matiealona and the Adrian College rugby team have shown what kind of damage they can accomplish on the field. Matiealona’s experience at Detroit Catholic Central and the Brighton Rugby league has put enough experience under his belt to know how the game is played and how to have a winning program. “I can have all the knowledge in the world but if I can’t deliver it to the players, I’m pretty much useless.”
Coach wanted to thank President Docking, vice presidents, the athletic director, all the faculty and administrative staff and donor’s for putting him in the position he is in now.
“Thank you for making this rugby program come true.”