Rugby falls to Army, beats Norwich at championships
Entering Saturday's playoff match against Army, the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club was prepared to stage an upset. After a full week of grueling, competitive practices under the waning fall afternoon sun, the Dartmouth boys were eager to defeat an Army side that had beaten them during the regular season.
Playing the most passionate rugby of the season, the DRFC staged a valiant effort against the academy, but fell by a score of 65-8. In every aspect except the final tally, the match was a proud culmination to the DRFC's fall 2002 campaign.
For the first 25 minutes of the contest, the large crowd of Army supporters stood silent, contemplating the ramifications of the Army loss that appeared forthcoming.
From Dartmouth's initial kickoff, the Big Green brought an intensity that had Army reeling. In the first 10 seconds Dartmouth set the tone of the match, laying a huge hit on the kickoff and lock Dave Hodapp '04 poaching the ball from Army at the 10-m.
Executing flawless phase play, Dartmouth hovered for five minutes at the Army 10-m, patiently rucking and mauling to gain precious inches on the steadfast defense. Freshman fly-half Jesse Blom, in his first A-side start, directed the offense like a seasoned veteran, distributing the ball with maturity and rendering intelligent decisions on the move.
The DRFC struck first seven minutes in, sending a third phase ball through hands to a streaking winger Dan Correa '05, who broke a tackle and touched the ball in the try zone to make it 5-0.
Five minutes later, Dartmouth withstood Army's bid for its first score. Exhibiting great kicking skill, the opponents drove to the Dartmouth five-m, but hit a wall in the form of the Dartmouth defense.
After a few phases, the Army forwards soon began attempting to sidestep and avoid Dartmouth defenders, timid in the face of hard tackling.
Weathering the storm after 10 Army phases, Dartmouth poached a ball from the ruck, and spun it out to wing Andrew Lusk '03, who sped 70-m out of harm's way to the Army 22-m. Running hard in support, prop Travis Escobedo '03 picked and jammed Lusk's ball off the tackle, and continued up-field for another five-m. After an Army penalty, Dartmouth opted for points, center Dan Brown '03 converted the kick to bring the score to 8-0.
Dartmouth and Army scrummed to a stalemate, as each team maintained most of its own put-ins, but failed to gain an advantage through any stolen balls. Likewise, the line-outs, spearheaded by flanker Mike Linchitz '02, were successful, especially to the front pod. However, Dartmouth did not steal many Army throws. As a result, neither side was able to claim an advantage in first phase play.
Despite Dartmouth's early intensity, Army picked up its pace midway through the first half, and led at halftime, 20-8. Strong running in the Army backline was the difference, as the cheeky fly-half orchestrated crash balls that were very effective in breaking the gain-line each phase.
Army dominated the second half, but not because of a lack of effort on the part of Dartmouth. The DRFC did not lose the game, but was beaten by a better Army side.
"Thats the best Army side I've seen in seven years," coach Alex Magleby '00 said. "With a flawless game, we should have beaten them. But our guys gave it their all, and that's all you can ask for. Every guy left it on the field."
Army went on to handily win the championship.
On Sunday, Dartmouth played a strong and improved Norwich team in the consolation round, and won a hard-fought battle 17-12. This victory claimed the DRFC third place in the final fall NERFU standings. The win also avenged a preseason loss to Norwich in early September.
After 15 minutes of equal play around midfield during which both sides displayed hard-nosed defense and tackling, Norwich marched to the Dartmouth five-m courtesy of two nicely placed penalty kicks. A Norwich forward quickly powered the ball into the try-zone to make the score, after a successful conversion, 7-0.
Gaining steam, Norwich continued to fiercely fight Dartmouth in the ruck. The scrum advantage tipped towards Norwich, as the opponent's hooker possessed an uncanny timing of Dartmouth's put-in, stealing several balls with a fast and efficient hook.
Dartmouth's smaller pack was unable to push the large Norwich forwards off of the ball, since Norwich was surprisingly stronger than Army in the scrum. As in the previous day's match, the line-outs were effective but not superb, as Dartmouth maintained possession but failed to steal many balls.
The DRFC showed spirited mauling off of the lineouts, gaining many meters as the forwards worked together to push back the Norwich unit. After working to the front pod for the majority of the first half, a switch to back pod balls caught Norwich off guard and was effective.
With Dartmouth reeling a bit, Norwich punched in another quick try only five minutes later. The score stood at 12-0 with only 10 minutes left in the first half.
Shaking off any fatigue from the mental and physical pounding of the previous day, Dartmouth awoke and stormed back on defense. Off of a Norwich penalty, Dartmouth, sliced to the Norwich 5-m.
Strong runs by hooker Chris Vorys '03 and prop Travis Escobedo '03 then set up a tremendous individual effort on the part of center Mikey Linchitz '02. Linchitz pick and jammed a ball, breaking three hard tackles, and dove into the try-zone, slamming the ball to the deck to make it 12-5 at the half.
Against the surprisingly stingy Norwich defense, Dartmouth opted to kick for points whenever possible. Dan Brown connected for four second-half kicks, accounting for 12 points and the difference in the match.
Dartmouth controlled possession of the ball, allowing Norwich very few opportunities in Dartmouth's half of the field. The tempo of the second half was similar to the first, the forwards rucking and mauling, the backs running for hard fought meters against the Norwich defense.
The DRFC resumes action this spring with its annual tour in late March, this year to Ireland.
Ben Annino is a senior member of the Dartmouth Rugby football Club.