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In a few weeks, the Delaware Blue Hens will return to the rugby field after nearly two years off thanks to suspension. One of the top teams in the country in one of the toughest leagues around before going dormant, Delaware isn’t easing back into things. Under the guidance of new head coach Struan Murray, the Blue Hens have a daunting fall schedule in front of them.

Murray was an assistant at Delaware a few years back but spent the last couple of seasons coaching the Wilmington men’s club to the brink of a national championship. He left a very strong team, and likely the shot at a national title, to return to the college game.

“I think most people who know me know that I wanted to go back to college at some point in time, and there was a chance that would come up,” said Murray. “In the long run, family support, got good club support from Wilmington to go ahead and do it, and we need to get Delaware back up and running, so it was just tough to leave Wilmington rather than it was tough to say yes to Delaware.”

Murray receives a stipend from the university, but with that check comes some strings. Like Penn State, Army and Mary Washington, a very public suspension has led to heightened administrative support coupled with heightened oversight.  

“They definitely are involved and more than interested observers,” said Murray of the school.

Murray has to help the rugby program earn back some good faith, so getting the team culture right will be top priority, but Delaware has a proud winning tradition, so earning some results won’t rank much further down the to-do list.

“If we can get more wins than losses, I think that’s definitely going to be a success for us,” said Murray, who has put together a very competitive slate of opponents. Delaware takes on Penn State, Kutztown, Wheeling Jesuit, Wilmington and Iona, amongst some other formidable comers.

“The aim was to try and get exposed to the higher level as soon as we could,” said Murray. “I don’t think there’s any point in starting up and trying to deliberately schedule who you believe you would beat. I think we want to make sure that the only way we can build is if we play the better teams.

“Ultimately, we’ll take our lumps if we have to, but to recruit next year and years beyond it we’ve got to be playing Kutztown, Penn State and Wheeling Jesuit, or we’ve got no shot of getting the best kids to come.”

Delaware’s cupboard is far from full, but it’s not empty, either. Chris Mattina, a key member of the team pre-suspension who kept active with NYAC the last couple of years, will be pivotal. He’s joined by about 14 other veterans who have played for Delaware at one time or another, a handful of who played men's club ball during the hiatus. Then there’s a slew of freshmen and sophomores who have never played as Blue Hens.

“I think we’re going to be okay 1-15 regardless of who they are, but I think the key is going to be our depth,” said Murray. “I think that’s going to be where our challenges are, but that’s not unexpected.”

Delaware will play 15s in the fall and focus on 7s in the spring. The Blue Hens have an especially good track record in the abbreviated game, having finished third at USA Rugby’s National Championships and won both the bowl and plate at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships. A return to the CRC, located just a half hour from campus, would be an ideal ending to a triumphant return for Delaware.

“Wouldn’t that just be the ideal end to the first year? We’ve talked about that, obviously,” said Murray. “That’s something we want to have, but we understand, especially as it’s gotten bigger and bigger, there’s no divine right for us to get an invite or to be involved, but the one thing we do know is we’ve got folks who will fill the stands. That’s never going to be an issue for us, but we’ve got to be credible on the field first.”