Players at crossroads

Players+at+crossroads

Five days separate Fox Abrahams (’16) from playing in the rugby ISSTs.

Based on ISST rules, which follow the International Rugby Board (IRB), any player who turns 18 before September 1 is ineligible to play in the rugby tournament.

Though Abrahams’ bears no control over the situation, he “feel[s] like I’m letting down the team. We’re putting the team at a massive disadvantage. It’s not my fault, but it’s something to do with me,” he said.

Jack Neblett (’16) turned 18 on May 10, 2015 and accepted the reality of his ineligibility to participate in ISSTs prior to the season. Nonetheless, the helplessness Neblett feels not being able to compete alongside his teammates at ISSTs lingers. “The fact that it’s my final year, I’m a senior, I’m the oldest player, it’s the time when I should and want to be stepping up, but I can’t,” Neblett said.

Playing since his sophomore year, Neblett worries that his ISST replacement will be thrust onto the field during the team’s most important games. “I’m one of the bigger players on the team and I’ve had the same position for the past two years so suddenly having that vacant spot and having to fill it with a newer, less experienced player is going to negatively impact the team’s play,” Neblett said. “I don’t like it.”

With two players unable to play this year and another three the year prior, the rule frustrates Athletics Director John Farmer. “I hate to be locked into a rule that doesn’t work for our community,” he said.

During his first meeting with fellow ISST athletics directors, Farmer proposed amending the rule, but faced heavy opposition. His colleagues cited the need to follow IRB rules. Adhering to those guidelines prevents directors from an insurance risk or lawsuit should a player be injured.

Given the context of the rule originally created for club rugby, Farmer feels there’s some room to amend the rule, but recognizes measures of safety are necessary with rugby. “I’m not convinced that we won’t be able to change it, but it will be met with some resistance,” he said.

The ineligibility of Abrahams and Neblett adds to Varsity Boys Rugby Coach Charlie Hughes’ preparation ahead of ISSTs. “I have to consider the two roles that the two boys are going to be leaving behind… I have to try and replace them, simply,” Hughes said.

To prepare Abrahams and Neblett’s successors, Hughes will position them differently from the incumbents, maximizing the development of the replacements and continuing to provide play time for Abrahams and Neblett. “They will be greatly missed, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure the loss of them doesn’t have a massive impact,” Hughes said.

Despite an inability to participate in the culminating tournament, Neblett continued with rugby into his senior year for two      reasons. “I love the team, I love all the players and I still have fun. I enjoy it. I can still play the regular season matches, so up until January/February when they start phasing in the ISST squad I can still play and enjoy and just have fun,” he said. 

Though the rule only eliminates players from playing during ISSTs, it can cripple a player’s season well before the tournament and hamper the team’s ambitions at ISSTs. “It means that I don’t get as much game time because whoever is going to replace me in ISSTs needs to be warmed up for the position in as many games as they can, but I expected that,” Abrahams said. “I’m just hoping to get as much game time as possible.”

For Neblett, the prospect of finishing his last rugby game during the regular season rather than at ISSTs remains disheartening. “Every game that we play is one less game, one game closer to my final game at ASL, which is true for everyone, but at least their final game will be at ISSTs.”