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The Commonwealth Shield, probably the best looking prize in American rugby, will be won by three teams Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., where five matches between Virginia and Virginia Tech take place.
The intrastate rivalry between UVA and Tech is a longstanding one, and the football Cavaliers and Hokies play annually for the Commonwealth Cup. Starting Saturday, every autumn the men’s, women’s and alumni teams from UVA and Tech will play for the Commonwealth Shield.
“We were walking back to the car after we narrowly beat them down here last year,” recalled Tech coach Andy Richards, “and we said, ‘Hey, look we’ve got to get a rivalry going and we need to play for something that means something,’ and the shield grew out of the Commonwealth Cup the football teams play for.”
UVA coach Ernie Marshall then spread word of the idea via email.
“It caught on like wildfire. My guys, his guys were all over it. One of our rugby alumni was in Honduras at the time and got the email. His brother (who played for Virginia Tech) was in Tanzania at the time, and was forwarded the email,” said Marshall.
“They sent me an email saying, ‘Great idea, this is long overdue, but the alumni want in.’ So I got back in touch with Andy, and we created an alumni match the same day between the men’s teams, and of course the women’s teams wanted in.”
While the alumni and men’s matches are just for bragging rights, as the Atlantic Coast Rugby League season doesn’t begin until winter, the women’s game will be for the Virginia Rugby Union title.
Saturday’s matches are taking place in the heart of Virginia’s campus at MadBowl, as the pitch sandwiched by columns of fraternity houses and Madison Hall has become known.
“Having a rival like this, intrastate, I don’t care if it’s rugby, football, baseball or dominoes, it’s going to generate interest, and it already has,” said Marshall. “We’re expecting a huge crowd in MadBowl...We’re excited. None of the guys, nobody’s sleeping these days. We’re all just waiting for Saturday to get here.”