BamaInsider - Alabama's rugby team responds to Nick Saban's recent joke
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Alabama's rugby team responds to Nick Saban's recent joke

Alabama’s club rugby team won’t begin its season for another three weeks, but for a brief moment Wednesday night, it was the talk of the Crimson Tide’s athletic program.

During his post-practice Zoom call with reporters, Nick Saban indirectly delivered a shoutout to the club team while providing a tongue-in-cheek answer to a question about first-year Australian punter James Burnip, a former Australian rules football player who had yet to play a down of American football before joining the Tide for fall camp.

“Well, we basically have him going over with the rugby team every day so he can play rugby and feel more comfortable doing that since we’re so worried about him playing football,” Saban deadpanned. “He’s doing really well with the rugby part of it, so we will see how that goes.”

The rare joke from Saban blew up over social media as fans laughed at the head coach’s flawless delivery. Within minutes, the clip made it to Alabama’s rugby team, which was equally amused by Saban’s antics.

“It was awesome,” team captain Matt Dossie said. “Our group chat as a team was blowing up afterward just to get that recognition from such a great guy. Like everybody else, we laughed about it. We have a guy who follows the football team really closely. He made a joke in the group chat like, ‘Have any of you guys seen Saban at practice?’

“We’ve had fun with it in the group chat. We also have an alumni association, and it’s getting thrown around there by all the parents. It’s really been great for us.”

Head rugby coach Eddie Buckner admits he wasn’t sure Saban even knew the university had a club rugby team but is happy with the recognition nonetheless.

“I mean, that was awesome,” Buckner said. “I started laughing, I thought it was hysterical. We’ll take any kind of shoutout we can get.”

Contrary to Saban’s remarks Wednesday, he has yet to make it out to one of the rugby team’s practices. However, in the unlikely event the football coach is able to clear out some time in his busy schedule this fall, he has an open invitation to come watch the rugby team at the university's recreational fields.

“If he came out to practice, we’d probably have to hold the players back,” Buckner said. “They’d probably have to hold me back, too. He’s a brilliant coach, you can’t deny that. He’s phenomenal at what he does and there’s a lot I could learn from the guy.”

The same goes for Burnip if his plans don’t pan out on the football field.

“I was actually thinking about DMing him,” Dossie said with a chuckle. “Just be like, ‘Hey, practice is at five o’clock tonight if you want to be there. If you’re not on the line stretching with us at five, there’s going to be repercussions.’

“At 6-6, 215 pounds with his athleticism, he’d probably be our tallest guy and one of our strongest guys. He’d probably play that lock position where you typically put your taller, stronger guys, and I bet he’d be a powerhouse.”

Intermingling between the Alabama rugby and football teams isn’t completely unheard of. According to Buckner, the majority of his team played football during their high school careers with some even turning down offers from Division II and III programs.

A handful of Alabama’s rugby players have tried out for the football team in recent years, including Alfred Williams who made the practice squad as a running back in 2016.

While Alabama’s football and rugby teams might be in different stratospheres in terms of notoriety, the two programs have shared similar success in recent years. Before having last season’s fall and spring schedules wiped out by the pandemic, the Tide’s rugby team was able to travel to Los Angeles in March of 2020 where it won the LA Sevens tournament. The team reached another significant milestone this offseason as star wing Caleb Strum was selected No. 7 overall by the Austin Gilgronis in last week’s Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft.

“That was huge for the program,” Buckner said. “Just to be able to make it to that level out of college is a huge deal for him, and it’s massive for our team as well because we are on everybody’s radar now as a team to play for.”

Following its success in 2020, Alabama’s rugby team is rising up the ranks in the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference, a 13-team league broken up by two divisions. Alabama is one of seven teams in the conference’s first division and is joined by Clemson, Georgia, Kennesaw State, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee. Auburn, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State and Ole Miss make up the second division.

Alabama will begin its season at home against conference newcomer Clemson on Sep. 18 at the university's rec field. The game is free to attend, and Buckner encourages anyone interested in learning more about the sport to attend — especially Saban and Burnip.

“I think new fans will get a kick out of it,” he said. “It’s incredibly exciting. It’s a full-pace kind of game. I know Clemson is going to come down with a purpose and a mission to make their authority known. It’s going to be a really good game. We'll be fun to watch this year.”

Alabama's rugby team celebrates together. Photo | Alabama Rugby
Alabama's rugby team celebrates together. Photo | Alabama Rugby

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