Men’s rugby opens Ivy schedule with big win over Cornell

by Ashley DuPuis | 10/7/15 6:01pm

After a challenging pre-season line-up, the men’s rugby team came out on top against Cornell University this past weekend in Ithaca, New York, kicking off the team’s Ivy League schedule with a resounding win. The Big Green outscored the Big Red 41-19, and the victory marked the team’s first win this season after three trying out-of-conference losses to Boston College, American International College and the Naval Academy.

“We knew that Cornell was going to test our defense and tackles, so we’ve been working a lot on our defensive line,” head coach Gavin Hickie said.

A physical Cornell side tested the Big Green defensive line immediately, putting up a quick two tries in the first half. The Big Red went 1-2 on conversion attempts and led 12-0 right off the bat. The rest of the half was characterized by stern defensive efforts by both teams. By the end of the first half, Dartmouth’s strong tackle game won out, and captain Jack Braun ’16 broke through the Cornell line for the Big Green’s first try.

A failed conversion attempt and a yellow card left the team entering the halftime break trailing by a score of 12-5 and down a player.

“We had a couple of penalties that didn’t go our way, but we knew that we just needed to stick to our system,” Braun said.

The halftime break did the Big Green no favors as a long run down the left side of the field led to another Big Red try. After the completed conversion, Dartmouth trailed by 14 points with less than a half remaining, although now back to a full 15 men on the field.

Hickie described the key to the game as “waiting for the right moment” to test Cornell’s defense. Down by two tries, it seemed as though that moment had arrived. The Big Green answered Cornell’s try with a successful kick charge-down by Ollie Engelhart ’18 that was collected by Hayden Aldredge ’17 and placed for another Dartmouth try. A conversion by Curtis Oberg ’16 brought Dartmouth within seven points of Cornell.

“That kind of turned the tide in terms of momentum,” Erik Warnquist ’16 said. “From there we calmed it down, used our conditioning and stepped up the pace.”

The game in Ithaca was played in a foggy rain, leading to sloppy conditions that slowed the field considerably and forced the Big Green to contest with the elements as well as with its Ivy opponent.

“The muddy and wet weather let to some messy play, but we knew we could come out stronger the second half,” Braun said.

About an hour into the game, the Big Green took the lead for the first time when Andrew Zhu ’16 powered through in the wing to score in the corner of the try zone. Zhu’s try sparked a series of consecutive tries in Dartmouth’s favor that eventually left the Big Red in the dust.

Max Hannam ’16 found an opening in the outside to run the ball and notched a try for Dartmouth. Ouickly after, Benji Hannam ’18 finished a 60-meter run to score his first try of the season, evading numerous tackles in the process. John Abraham ’16 closed the scoring for the Big Green with another score in the corner of the try zone.

Warnquist attributed the team’s successful comeback to good coaching and preparation.

“I think a lot of it came down to our coaching,” Warnquist said. “We knew this season that there were going to be a lot of opportunities for us to have to work really hard in games and that’s something we were kind of anticipating.”

Hickie credited the win to a “collective team effort,” with critical plays and tries coming from players off the bench and who were returning from previous injuries.

“A lot of young guys have stepped up [due to team injuries],” Braun said. “We’ve all been patient and persevered, and we’re on the edge of a breakthrough that will show the hard work we have been putting in [this season].”

Looking ahead, the team hopes to build on this success in future matches, building on what they’ve learned from the Cornell victory and the out-of-conference losses.

“We started this season with some tough games to build us into it, and we’ve got a tough opponent later in the season in Lindenwood [University],” Warnquist said. “So really the focus of this year in general is to optimize our 15s play.”

The Big Green will face Yale University in Hanover at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse this Saturday at 11:30 a.m for its first home Ivy game of the season, where Dartmouth will look to continuing defending its Ivy League title.

“It’s always very special playing on Brophy,” Hickie said. “We want to come out with a strong show for friends, family and alumni. First and foremost, we want the win.”

So far this season, the Bulldogs have seen mixed results. Their first XV have put up a 2-1 record on the season with narrow wins over both Millersville University and the University of Pennsylvania. This past weekend, though, the Bulldogs fell by eight points to the Princeton University Tigers. Last season, the Big Green took down the Bulldogs by a 42-7 score.

Dartmouth also seems to have hit its stride against the Big Red this weekend. The Big Green had its strongest performance of the season both offensively and defensively in the Ivy opener. For the first time this fall season, the men both scored more than 30 points and also held their opponents to under 40 points.

One concern for the Big Green going forward is the team’s ability to succeed without star scrumhalf Madison Hughes ’15. Hughes helped lead the team to the Ivy title last season and is now playing for the American national sevens squad. No one player will be able to make up Hughes’ performance, but a coalition of seniors will have to step up if the Big Green hopes to replicate last season’s strong performance.

So far this season, Abraham, Braun and Dawit Workie ’17 have shone for the Big Green, scoring multiple tries in the first four games of the season. If those three can continue to play well, the offense should thrive at home against Yale this weekend.

Braun said he expects to see Dartmouth put points up on the board quickly against the Bulldogs.

After taking down the team’s first Ivy opponent, the Big Green will look to keep the momentum rolling against Yale.

“Cornell is a big strong team, a little bit different style than Yale, so we are hoping that we can transfer that knowledge into a different style of play,” Warnquist said. “Now we know that we have the ability and the tenacity to come from behind and win.”

Zhu is a member of The Dartmouth business senior staff.