Timeout with……Chris Nelsen ‘16

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Chris Nelsen ‘16 tries to hold off an oncoming defender. [Photo courtesy of Chris Nelsen ‘16/One World United Photos]

Rachel Robertson

Rachel Robertson: What’s the goal of rugby?

Chris Nelsen: It’s like a combination of football and hockey and soccer. The game play is kind of unique compared to anything else. The closest would be football. You alternate between offense and defense, scoring is tries instead of touchdowns and then you get a conversion.

RR: How has the season gone?

CN: This season has been the best season we’ve had while I’ve been here. It’s been amazing. Right now we’re 4-0. We’re leading our half of the division. We’re in the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union. And we have one more game before playoffs—this Saturday against Neumann University.

RR: Who’s the team to beat in playoffs?

CN: It’s Susquehanna University. They are dominating the West [division]. They have a fantastic team. They have some absurd point differential right now. I think they’ve only let up five points, which is one try, the entire season so far. Within the East, it’s definitely Neumann. They’re undefeated and beat us last year in the playoffs in a very close game. They just don’t have the kind of scores we’re putting up [this year].

RR: You have won this year by some big margins. Is that something you were expecting?

CN: It’s just something that kind of happened. We just have a very fluid, kind of organic team dynamic right now thats come because we’ve been playing together for three years, four for some of us. Something just clicked this year and we were able to string things together.

RR: Who have been the key players for the rugby team?

CN: [Junior back] John Walker. He’s put up 12 tries on season and eight in last two games. He’s been fantastic. [Sophomore forward] Russell Tanaka also. Backs are similar to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in football and forwards are similar to the linemen.

RR: What position do you play?

CN: So my position is called Fly Half. It’s kind of analogous to quarterback in football. I call plays, oversee general flow of how we’re doing. Other than that I’m just another cog in the machine. We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different positions.

RR: Rugby’s a unique sport—when did you start playing?

CN: I started playing in eighth grade, which is pretty young for the US. We have a couple other players who have prior experience but most of our guys are ex-football players, soccer players, wrestlers—a lot of wrestlers actually.

RR: Were you looking to play rugby in college?

CN: I loved rubgy in high school so it was a requirement for any school I looked at to have some level of rugby. I didn’t care if it was DI, DIII, club, varsity, whatever. As long as there was a program there. I came and I found my fit here.

RR: What would winning a championship this season mean?

CN: It would be the perfect cap to my senior year.

RR: Rugby seems to be a pretty aggressive sport, what makes it that way?

CN: There’s the fact that you don’t have any pads, whatsoever. There’s also this mentality of, you get hurt but you try to just hide that and keep on playing as long as you’re physically able. It’s a weird mentality. Anybody who plays is just tough as nails. It’s similar to hockey in that respect.

RR: So you studied abroad in New Zealand. What was it like to play there?

CN: That was really cool. I chose New Zealand particularly because it’s like the Mecca for rugby, especially in the Pacific. I played for a DIII men’s social league, so I was playing with guys who were maybe by age up to like 40s. But they all played high level DI and DII rugby in their prime. So they we’re really good but maybe out of shape.

RR: Favorite athlete?

CN: Shane Williams. He’s a retired Welsh rugby player. He’s like the underdog little guys kind of person, but he really came into his own in the last World Rugby Cup.

RR: Favorite professor?

CN: Professor McGuire, definitely. He teaches geotechnical engineering, so basically playing with dirt.

RR: Favorite food?

CN: The Wawa Gobbler. I just had one yesterday, so good.

RR: Favorite movie?

CN: 12 Angry Men

RR: Favorite band?

CN: Walk Off the Earth

RR: Any words of wisdom?

CN: I am not a wise person. I’ll leave that to philosophers.