On Saturday, Dartmouth played Army at the academy's beautiful campus on the cliffs of the Hudson in West Point, N.Y. Under the direction of a new coach, Army displayed a revamped offensive strategy, and defeated the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club, 30-5. Hard running and vicious hitting on both sides characterized the tempo of the match.
Abandoning its traditional up-the-gut style, Army worked the ball to its outside backs, whose size advantage equaled the difference in the final tally. Army frequently gained an extra five-m after initiating contact in the tackle, making it extremely difficult for Dartmouth to poach balls from the ruck. The result was a greater time of possession for Army, and much of the game was played within Dartmouth's half of the field.
"Those Army guys didn't bite and scratch, but they fought like trolls on a bridge," reported eight-man Chris Rubinate '03. "Try as I might, I couldnt penetrate their proverbial force-field in the ruck."
For the first 20 minutes, Army drove toward the Dartmouth try-zone but could not score. Dartmouth put in a tremendous effort on defense, refusing to succumb to the Army phase-play.
Army started the scoring midway through the first half, when, by virtue of an overlap, a wing turned the corner from 15-m out and ran the ball in for a try. The kick made it 7-0.
Dartmouth, in an effort to keep the ball out of its 22-m, tried to kick the ball clear several times, but a stiff wind at its face rendered the strategy fruitless. Line-outs on both sides also suffered due to the wind, as the ball followed a parabolic path down the tunnel.
Outsized once again, the DRFC pack was not intimidated, and played the opposing scrum to a stalemate. Dartmouth wheeled Army a few times to gain the put-in.
Down 12-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half, Dartmouth, with possession at the Army 30-m, opted to attempt for points. The kick, though straight, fell well short, the wind pushing it down.
As if putting an exclamation point on the new philosophy of back finesse, Army tacked on three points as time expired from the half. Off of a scrum, on the last first phase ball of the half, the Army fly-half received the ball from the scrum-half, freed himself from coverage, and drop-kicked the ball through the uprights from the 22-m to make the score, at the half, 15-0.
Fullback Dan Brown '03 commented on the play.
"That was really cheeky, but that doesn't surprise me coming from Army. Ask the veteran Iraqi allies from Desert Storm the difference between the Army and Marines, and they'll simply tell you a story concerning the color of their respective boots. The Marines had the black ones, for sure."
The second half saw Dartmouth gain an advantage with the wind at its back, and the kicking strategy breathed new life into the DRFC. Dartmouth pressured the Army defense for much of the half, putting good pressure on the opponents.
The Army defense was strong, however, standing up and wrapping Dartmouth ball-carriers and forcing mauls. The DRFC forwards handled the mauls admirably, and at 20 minutes into the second half, the ball finally found its way, through phase play, out to the wing.
Fullback Dan Correa '05 fought through Army defenders from 10-m out, muscling the ball into the try-zone for the try. Dartmouth missed the conversion, making the score 20-5.
"The wind was my evil nemesis during the first half. But in the second, it's as if [the wind and I] made up for an argument, I apologized and bought it flowers and we, you know, scored after that," co-captain Gabe Doleac '03 said.
Army regrouped, and for the rest of the second half, Dartmouth was unable to penetrate the defense.
Overall, the Army squad was smaller than years past, but much better organized, with game-breaking speed and hard running ability. The game was not lost in the trenches with first phase play, but out in the backline, Dartmouth's defense unable to adapt fast enough to the overlapping Army backs.
"On the wing, it was like two MiGs all the sudden multiplied into five, and we had to switch from missiles to guns," prop Travis Escobedo '03 said.
"That spells trouble, because usually planes dont blow up from bullets. We failed to stop them on the wing."
The last game of the regular season is Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. at Sachem Field. The DRFC (4-2) must win the match against Brown to renew momentum entering the playoffs.
Ben Annino is a senior prop for the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.