At a cocktail party in the fall of 1961, three students – Jeff Savage, Bill Walker, and AL Stowe – decided to start a rugby club. The idea caught fire and the ranks of players grew rapidly to the point that, in the 1960s, the club could field 4-5 full sides on any given game day. Recall, this was a time before substitutions were allowed in a match.
In the early years of the club, the student leadership was outstanding. Leadership realized the secret to keeping interest in rugby and retaining players was to find ways for EVERYBODY to have playing time every weekend. Consequently, it was not uncommon for more than one collegiate club to be invited to the University on the same day in order to provide sufficient playing opportunity for everyone. On other occasions, the “A” side could be playing at home or elsewhere, while “B” and “C” side matches were arranged on the same day at other schools. To help with the numbers, there were times when a few players would play more than one match on a given day – playing in the first and third matches of the day while recovering while the second match was played.
Team leadership did a superb job of guaranteeing playing time for everyone, and the ’60s and 70’s were “happy” years for the club. “Mad Bowl” did not exist in the ’60s as a rugby pitch, as all home matches were played on “Nameless Field,” adjoining Memorial Gym. When needed – such as weekends when hosting multi-team tournaments, matches were played also on the Carr’s Hill Field, that, back then, was crude and lacked the artificial turf that is there today. “The Dell” was used frequently as a practice field and, on rare occasions, as a venue for matches during multi-team tournaments.
In the earliest days of the club, anyone at the University could join and play. This included students and faculty. Undergraduates and graduate students were at the core of the club but there was a healthy representation from the Law School and, occasionally, from the Medical School or the Darden School.
In 1962, the club created “The Commonwealth Cup” tournament. It was the oldest rugby tournament in the East and it was regarded widely as the “unofficial East Coast Championship.” Princeton University won the first tournament in 1962. The Governor of Virginia was on hand for the first tournament to do the official match drawings, validating it as a “Commonwealth” tournament.
Everything changes over time and, as the club size grew and, with the advent of USA Rugby that set limitations on player eligibility, a rift occurred in the club as younger players found it difficult to make their way onto the A- and B- side rosters because of so many good players going on beyond their undergraduate years. Much of the history of this time is blurred with several explanations offered for the split but, eventually a splinter group decided to move part of the team out into the city of Charlottesville as the VRFC. It came to represent what it does today – largely a post-graduate men’s rugby club but one that invites anyone to join and play.
It is recognized universally that the undergraduate men’s team and the VRFC have a common birth in 1961, and spiritually, they are the same club.