On the 8th and 9th of November, the HBS Rugby Football Club took part in the 7th annual Thunderbird School of Management Rugby Invitational Tournament in Phoenix, AZ. A collection of current HBS students, Harvard grads, HBS alumni and their Tongan friends played five excellent games of rugby, winning four, and losing the Grand Final with a last-second penalty kick. Followers of the Harbus Rugby column will recognize the disturbing similarity to the Wharton invitational three weeks earlier.

Heartache aside, HBS performed well, and will be legitimate contenders for the MBA World Cup in April 2004.

Day 1 began with a rousing talk from Captain Dan Gertsacov (OJ), urging us to dominate all aspects of play. Four-letter words, most beginning with ‘F’ or ‘C’ completed our psychological preparation. As the team left the shade of our ‘hospitality tent’, it was reassuring to see that the two ladies teams from ASU and NAU both sat as close to the Harvard boys as possible. This choice was evidently made based on our rippling torsos, bulging biceps, and colt-like legs. It had nothing to do with our future earning potential.

Our first game was a tough one against our Thunderbird hosts. Despite some players nursing self-inflicted liver injuries from the night before, there were many strong performances. Most impressive were our Tongan imports, who generously gave of their time to fill in for our depleted regular squad. Mate ki Tonga, at 360 pounds, was an awesome sight, striking fear into the heart of the opposition with his powerful running and deft skills. Tucker Bailey (OB) and John Sheppard (OI) used their impressive bulk to time and again drive the Thunderbird pack backwards.

The backline, ably led by Jorge O’Hara (HBS ’03) then had enough room to unleash a barrage of creativity all over the Thunderbird squad. HBS 17 – Thunderbird 5.

Our second game saw us take on Columbia, who seemed to have spent too much time in SoHo bars, and in front of mirrors in Pravda, and not enough in the gym or on the track. In the front row, Dan Gertsacov and Moana Tuifui, used their size and skill advantage to dominate the scrums.

The recent eye surgery of the referee curbed many HBS promising set plays. Regardless, the HBS backline were able to run rampant over their Columbia counterparts, punching in 6 tries, including a hat-trick to impressive speedster Vea Ofa. Outside backs Brian Connell (HBS ’03), Dave Miller (HBS ’03), Raj Joshi (KSG) and Brandon Bentley (KSG) made strong yards in attack and ensured the HBS line was not breached. HBS 36 – Columbia 0.

The final preliminary game was against Kellogg, who played a hard-rucking and aggressive style of rugby. Indeed, HBS were twice behind in this game and did well to emerge with a victory. As the big men on both sides tired, HBS’ well drilled and dependable back row of Brendan Rauw (OF), Mike Dobrynio (HBS ’02) and Joseph Tesvic (NC) began to snipe around the rucks, turning over vital possession. Jamil Khan (NJ), subbing in for Dobrynio, unleashed his well known ‘wrath’ late in the game. Stellar performances from our all-Tongan centre combination of Nai Hola (HBS OPM) and Butch Fihaki led to a couple of quick tries that broke the game open and ensured that HBS ended the preliminaries undefeated. HBS 31 – Kellogg 12.

Saturday night saw the introduction of a new competition: the MBA Rodeo. Based on his prior experience with riding livestock in Boston and London, Jamil Khan was selected to represent HBS. Brendan Rauw pleaded that his Moon Bison experience in Montreal should be recognized, but Khan prevailed. Believing that the simple task of clutching on to a mechanical bull for 2 seconds would earn him his teammates respect, Khan willingly accepted the challenge. On arrival at the venue, his great misery was dwarfed only by the team’s great joy upon the discovery that the rodeo involved riding a real 1600lb bull. A few lubricating drinks, a signature on a few forms, and suddenly Khan was astride a bull named ‘Trojan’. A respectable ride time of 5 seconds (upper quartile) ensured that Harvard’s honor was upheld. Later in the evening Jorge O’Hara broke into the NAU bull enclosure and attempted to ride a bull, but was prematurely ejected.

The evening was also notable for cultural exchange. Interestingly, many players (and not just those from Kellogg) used to work in Chicago, and had amusing anecdotes from old department stores. It is a credit to Business schools across the US to see that dismissal from their Chicago jobs for delivering incorrect orders did not bar entry to their MBA programs. We all agreed how easy it is to confuse a gold bracelet with a necklace.

Another 80 degree day greeted us for the finals on Sunday. Strangely, the ASU female team did not take their place next to us on the second day. This was attributed to the hotter weather, rather than the fact that Raj Doshi let slip that most MBAs would be in great debt upon graduation.

First up was a semi-final against Wharton, who had cruelly beaten us in the Grand Final of their own invitational. An almost violent pep-talk from Nai Hola had us charging onto the field with a desire to hit early, hit hard and hit often. We did all three, again ably led in this regard by Bailey, Sheppard (broken finger and all) and the indefatigable front row. Luke Herbert’s (NE) play at the base of the scrum was nothing short of phenomenal in this game, and he backed it up with punching well above his weight in defense, and well above his shoulders in attack. Early exchanges were about even, but again our impressive backline erupted, and Jorge O’Hara’s goal kicking saw us win with a surprisingly comfortable margin. HBS 29 – Wharton 5.

The final was, as mentioned, a disappointment. This was a game that, as the clich‚ goes, we deserved to win. The Texas forward pack conceded about 1000 pounds to the HBS pack, as well as a whole load in the ‘heart’ department. The Texas backline, lauded during the tournament, were held to 2 tries by the HBS backs. What unfolded was lamentable, but, as yet another clich‚ goes, ‘it’s a funny game is rugby’. HBS dominated early territory thanks to the immaculate kicking game of O’Hara and struck first with yet another try to Vea Ofa. HBS 5 – UT 0. Gertsacov, Sheppard, Bailey and the Tongans made the Texans pay for their flat-footedness with some of the biggest hits ever seen in Arizona.

Dobrynio, Rauw and Tesvic, displaying the fruits of hours on the track were at every ruck and maul to smash opponents and pilfer position. HBS worked into position and O’Hara slotted an easy field goal. HBS 8 – UT 0.
UT replied with defensive tactics, and won a controversial penalty from the referee, who incidentally shares the same optometrist as Rick Moranis.

HBS 8 – UT 3. Half-time came and went, and an errant pass was swooped upon by UT for a miracle try. HBS 8 – UT 10. HBS charged up the pitch once more and replied quickly with an O’Hara penalty. HBS 11 – UT 10. By now the crowd was going nuts. The girls from North Arizona Ladies Rugby were particularly excitable. This was the closest game in the tournament’s history. A miraculous charge-down saw UT take the lead, against the run of play. HBS 11 – UT 15. As time ran out, HBS stepped up a gear, with Herbert marshalling the troops brilliantly as we drove down the pitch. The ball spun wide, and O’Hara, as usual lurking in support, crossed for a try. HBS 16 – UT 15. With 1 minute remaining, UT drove towards our line, but was repelled again and again. The siren went, just as the referee raised his arm…a penalty. Full credit to the UT kicker, who iced the most pressured kick in his short career. HBS 16 – UT 18.

Although the Fall rugby season is over, the team will be using the Christmas break to spiritually cleanse their souls in such relaxing locations like Las Vegas, Bangkok and Amsterdam. Rest assured, we are warriors, we are strong, we are fierce, we have guns, we have bullets, and we WILL be back with
a vengeance at the MBA World Championships at Duke.

Stay tuned.

Team List
Starting lineup
1 – Mate Ki “Killer” Tonga (LT)
2 – Moana “Mo” Tuifui (LT)
3 – Dan “Gertz” Gertsacov (OJ) (c)
4 – Tucker “Injuries” Bailey (OB)
5 – John “More Injuries Than Tucker” Sheppard (OI)
6 – Mike “Dobbs” Dobrynio (HBS 02)
7 – Brendan “Grenade” Rauw (OF)
8 – Joseph “Hot Tub” Tesvic (NC)
9 – Luke “Navigator” Herbert (NE)
10 – Jorge “George” O’Hara (HBS 03)
11 – Brian “Ankle” Connell (HBS 03)
12 – Nai “Crash” Hola (HBS OPM) (vc)
13 – Butch “Butch” Fihaki (LT)
14 – Dave “God” Miller (HBS 03)
15 – Vea “Hat Trick” Ofa (LT)
16 – Jamil “Wrath Of” Khan (NJ)
17 – Raj “Teetotal” Joshi (KSG)
18 – Brandon “Double B” Bentley (KSG)