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College in the USA - Playing Rugby at the world famous Yale University in the Ivy League

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College in the USA - Playing Rugby at the world famous Yale University in the Ivy League

Mat Turner

UR7s is running a feature series on Collegiate Rugby in North America and how each college differs. Today we get the chance to sit down with Irishman Greg McWilliams who coaches Yale University

The history of the competition is just so impressive. Traveling to the other Universities is a privilege I can never take for granted.

Coach McWilliams on Ivy League Rugby

Greg McWilliams is Head Coach and Director of Rugby at the world famous Yale University in the Ivy League. The Irishman moved to the States following the Women's Rugby World Cup where he coached Ireland. He worked with Irish Women's team for two world cup cycles whilst also working as a secondary school teach at St Michaels College where he was also Director of Rugby. St Michaels is a rugby institution in Dublin but now after 3 years in the States he is firmly entrenched in Ivy League Football whilst also coaching the Collegiate All-Americans.

UR7s got the chance to sit down and chat with Greg recently to talk about rugby at Yale, the Ivy League and the application process for students that are interested in attending University in the USA.

Greg attends the USCD Rugby Camp at Dartmouth College each summer. The USCD Camp sees all of the top collegiate coaches from across the States come together to deliver a world leading camp whilst working with students to help make their collegiate rugby dreams come true.

Learn more about the USCD Rugby Camp Here >>>>>

UR7s: What makes your institution/college different from others?

Coach McWilliams: Yale is a very special place, considered one of the best Universities in the world. We are working hard to create a positive environment for students to develop, have fun and compete for honors. Rugby started at Yale in 1875 and is steeped in tradition and history. Two celebrated rugby alumni are former Yale Rugby captain, Walter Camp, who came up with the game we know today as American Football and the 43rd President George W Bush.

View a brief History of Yale Rugby here >>>>

UR7s: How does the application process work?

Coach McWilliams: The deadlines to submit an application for Freshman Admission are:

  • Single-Choice Early Action: November 1.
  • QuestBridge National College Match: November 1.
  • Regular Decision: January 2.

Prospective students can reach out to me anytime and I will send you an information pack, assist with gathering information and show you around if you would like a tour greg.mcwilliams@yale.edu

UR7s: Tell us a little more about yourself, your rugby history and how you ended up leading the program?

Coach McWilliams: I was very lucky. From Dublin, Ireland originally and I had a great rugby education myself which has very much shaped how I lead the program now following working with the Irish Women's teams. Education and it’s relationship with sport / competition really appeals to me much of this comes from my time as a teacher and moulds me as a coach now leading athletes on the field and in preparation for life off-field. Whatever the level, if a player has a clear understanding of their roles within the team they have a greater chance of a higher contribution.

Our job is to develop high standards for each player at Yale, creating the best medical care, strength and conditioning, core skill development and continuous 360 feedback. For player longevity, this process has to be fun.

I try to bring my experiences from a tier one nation such as Ireland and from working in rugby institutions such as St Michaels to my time at Yale whilst adapting these to fit the student athlete in the US. But ultimately the building blocks are the same.

UR7s: How would you describe rugby at your program?

Coach McWilliams: It’s hard to quantify rugby at Yale. When I arrived there was little structure or foundations in place. This had nothing to do with the previous coaching staff, who did a great job, it was more about where rugby was seen by the University, that view has changed considerably.

In August 2014, it became a full-time operation. I remember feeling very isolated at the start. Most people here at Yale didn’t even know we had a rugby program, let alone one that was nearly 140 years old. Now we have 4 coaches between the men and women’s programs, 3 medical staff, 3 strength and conditioning staff, a very active University administration staff, a parents association, a strong family base and a growing alumni board and alumni base. This is a project for all connected to this sport, not just the players, although they have to be the main drivers of our standards and performance targets.

A Taste of the Yale Program in Video....

Living with the Bulldogs: Tour video >>>>

Yale Gala dinner >>>>

UR7s: What is special about Ivy League Rugby?

Coach McWilliams: The history of the competition is just so impressive. Traveling to the other Universities is a privilege I can never take for granted. We are behind powerhouses such as Harvard Brown and Dartmouth, but that is the beauty of this challenge right now, all stakeholders are working hard to be competing for silverware. This spring we play Brown in the Ivy League Semi Final, thats the next chance for the group to test themselves, to see how that development is working across the board. Without doubt, the standard of competition and program development across the board has significantly improved over the short time I have been here. It’s only getting better.

UR7s: What does the season look like? Do you play 7s & 15s

Coach McWilliams: We play the Ivy League Championship in the fall. Play off’s for that currently take place in the spring, but that might change. During the winter months we are indoors for an intensive S&C and skills seven week block before we go on a pre spring season tour to Florida. In the spring we have a mixture of 15s and 7s. Notably we play Princeton in the Koranda Cup, the Ivy 7s Championship, the Young Alumni game and our biggest target is reaching the National D1AA play offs.

UR7s: What would the average week look like for your student athletes?

Coach McWilliams: On average we are on the pitch 3 times (One session will be a skill & video based). We are in the gym 3 times and have matches generally on a Saturday. Sunday is for Recovery where the players hit the pool. We get a great amount of our education practiced remotely as the players have a busy week with academic commitments. We use a video sharing platform where feedback is constructed. We have to be conscious of our students time. Academic excellent is essential at Yale.

We are lucky to have a coach like Craig Wilson leading the women’s program and assisting with the men’s. He has added great value. The women’s program is growing, we are all working together and it’s a lot of fun.

Latest news from the world of UR7s.

UR7s: What advice can you give to students thinking about applying?

Coach McWilliams: Get as much information on each University that interests you, as early as you can. This is a major decision for the family, rugby should only play a part. Pick the best University that suites your dreams. I always tell prospective students you come to Yale if you want to achieve special things, which can only happen with an infectious work rate, hunger and ambition. Reach out to the rugby coaches of your chosen Universities, develop links, share match footage. Players will be shown around campus, introduced to the team, observe a session etc. This will give you the best intel for the correct decision.

UR7s: How do camps like the USCD help students in the Collegiate Application Process?

Coach McWilliams: The USCD is such an import camp for any aspiring Ivy student. The coaching staff is made up of coaches from some of the best Universities in the country. It is a great gateway for the student to see what certain coaches are like from the different Ivies and most importantly, it is a smashing way to network and socialize with coaches and like minded student athletes. I would recommend the USCD, it’s a lot of fun and a solid spring board.