Chad Tiernan 2021 DII All-American

Photo: Emily Paine

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Chad Tiernan ’23 was named a 2021 DII All-American by National Collegiate Rugby.

In the Scrum

by Andrew Faught
For fans weary of commercial breaks and the leisurely pace of play in sports like baseball and golf, Chad Tiernan ’23 has just the antidote: the timeout-free game of rugby.

“It’s constant, there’s no stopping,” says Tiernan, co-captain of Bucknell’s club team, “meaning it’s exhausting with the constant running and hitting.”

At 6 feet, 2 inches and 225 pounds, Tiernan is one of the bigger athletes on the pitch. He plays a position called No. 8, a catch-all role responsible for tackling, setting rucks (in which players compete for the ball on the ground), running with the ball and passing it — always backward, per game rules — to teammates scrambling for the end zone (or “try zone,” in rugby parlance).

Tiernan decided to give the football-soccer hybrid game a try during his first year of high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., joining the school’s squad on a whim because his friend wanted to play.

He’s been mixing it up in the scrum ever since.

Growing up, Tiernan played basketball and football, the latter for which he was a defensive end. He never got to touch the ball. Rugby changed all of that: “Being able to run with the ball and break tackles was something that was super fun to me.”

The Bison compete in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference (MARC), and Tiernan’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In March, he was named a 2021 DII All-American by National Collegiate Rugby. This year’s team will kick off the new season in September. Tiernan is itching to play, especially after recovering from an ankle fracture he suffered while playing in January.

As co-captain, Tiernan aims to get the best out of his teammates with upbeat chatter, while also stressing the importance of game fundamentals.

“The brotherhood aspect of the game is huge,” he attests. “I want to make sure we have good energy before a game. You’ve got to make sure that the guys are ready to go and excited to play. We talk about being smart with the ball.”

For all of the game’s physicality, most players, including Tiernan, compete without protective gear or padding. That rugby players mostly avoid serious injury is due in large part to a cardinal rule: all tackles must be made below the shoulders.

Because rugby players typically run 4.35 miles over the course of two 40-minute halves, it’s not surprising that training focuses on endurance. Tiernan’s regimen includes sprints, distance runs and weight training.

Off the field, Tiernan is a finance major who will serve an internship this summer at BNY Mellon, a corporate investment firm. The experience, he says, will give him a glimpse of work life, while helping him decide on a career.

Tiernan enrolled at Bucknell for its academics, “and when I visited, I loved the campus,” he says. “Getting to play rugby was obviously a bonus.”

Wherever his future leads, Tiernan knows one thing for certain: He’s going to continue playing rugby.

“The game brings me so much joy,” he says. Some passions never die.

Instant Replay


Being selected to the high school All-American team and playing with the other All-Americans in Chula Vista, Calif. It was such a proud moment for me to be able to represent my country like that.


The whole game, you’re offense and defense. The variety of what you can do makes it fun for me.


My biggest strength is seeing gaps on the field and attacking that space. Being bigger, I’m also able to use my body to get things open.


My dad played rugby at Georgia Tech, but he never really tried to get me to play. He was ecstatic that I did.