While guys like seniors Taylor Hayes and John Boudreaux get their names in the paper and most of the hype during the season, almost all rugby enthusiasts will tell you it’s the battle up front that impacts performance the most.
Texas was fortunate the last few years with experienced campaigners like Danny Camara, Ekongi Yancy, Greg Hesch, Fernando Assing, and Santiago Cardenas at prop. With Camara and Yancy getting in a ton of work last Spring the Longhorns were especially strong in the front row. Texas, along with hookers Matt Bomberger and Adrian Ruiz, had the edge in set pieces for most games and put in some dominant performances. Against Navy in the Varsity Cup, out of all areas in the game, Texas performed the best at scrum time.
“We try to set the platform for the rest of the game in our set pieces. We’ve come a long way and Danny, Matty, and Ekongi proved that with their performance in the Varsity Cup matches against the best competition in the Country,” said Head Coach Chris Hopps. 2014-2015 looks to be a different challenge all together however, as Camara and Yancy have graduated, and Bomberger is still coming back from an injury he picked up playing Navy. Bomberger fractured an orbital and had to have surgery and a titanium plate inserted, and while he asserts that he is still the best looking forward he won’t be back to full strength on the field until mid season. “It was really tough; I’m glad I got through most of the match before it happened, but it’s been a long road. I had to make up some work in the academic world. Before, I was looking forward to adding some work in the offseason. Now, all of the plans changed. Though its a challenge I’m looking to overcoming it,” said senior player Bomberger.
The cupboard isn’t bare though, as Adan Briones and Lorenzo Ramirez put in some solid performances at times spelling last years front liners. Briones earned high praise and worked his way up the depth chart to get significant time in the season-ending Varsity Cup National Championship. Briones was new to rugby in the Fall and impressed staff immediately with his work rate and reliability. Pushing himself and his ability to get through work and limit mistakes made it impossible not to include him in the team at the top level, and showed a willingness to get into the physical contests required of a front row forward. Ramirez had a different path, joining the team in the Spring as a center. “I saw him run the ball once and immediately knew he was destined for the front row,” laughed Coach Hopps. There was no laughing though when Ramirez got comfortable in the scrum. He turned out to be one of the strongest Longhorns and Hesch, now in a coaching role with the Longhorns, lamented, “Zo’s is pure power and aggression. He and Adan are a good match because Adan is steady and controlled, while Lorenzo is kind of all over the place, carrying the ball and making hits.” The staff maintains that there is a long road ahead to reach the heights of the last few years. Ramirez has a tendency to get lost in up-tempo games and spend energy in areas where he doesn’t need to, and Briones will need the added bulk of summer training to stand up to Texas Rugby grind for the Varsity Cup.
No question the Longhorns will rely heavily on the shoulders of Briones and Ramirez, and experience campaigner Adrian Ruiz. Ruiz wasn’t a backup in 2014 as the Longhorns enjoyed the luxury of hooker by campaign or more accurately hooker according to competition according to Hopps. “There was no 1 or 2 at the hooker positon. Adrian brought a very physical game and was slightly better in the scrums, while Matty was an accurate and powerful lineout thrower and a more of an outside threat. Adrian was a 3rd prop and Matty was a 4th loose forward.” Summed up Hopps. Ruiz is back for his 3rd season as a Longhorn rugby player and has started to ascend to more of a leadership role. Also looking to contribute are junior Niels Cobb, senior Connor Kennedy, and sophomore Charles Wittel. The Longhorns are looking at a 5-man rotation at prop and 3 hookers capable of competing at a Varsity Cup level.
Don’t expect the front row Longhorns to get much hype as usual but look for them in the newspaper – maybe exhausted from springing a streaking Hayes or Boudreaux.