Tough defense and clutch play propel rugby to key win

by Dan Correa | 11/5/04 6:00am

The Dartmouth men's rugby team earned a fourth straight win at home Saturday in its final regular season match against Northeastern University. Much rode on the match for both teams, as the winner would continue into postseason play, and the loser would be finished competing for the season. After a hard fought match and a dramatic second half, Dartmouth stormed to a 35-20 victory, securing a playoff berth.

As one observing referee commented afterwards, the match was "what college rugby is all about." Competitive throughout, the match was marked by dynamic and flowing play, as well as relatively few penalties. Possession went back and forth, and the ball was rarely in one end of the field for very long.

At times, Dartmouth put together its best continuous play of the season on offense, while the Dartmouth defense showed unusual ferocity, trying to poach the ball at every opportunity.

"We really stepped up today," observed team leader and prop Joseph Boswell '06. "I made a lot of earth-shattering tackles out there."

His partner in crime, lock John Turner '04, confirmed that indeed, the game was a success precisely because of tackles that shook the earth. "You could have measured [the tackles] with a seismograph," he commented at the game's end.

Self-congratulation aside, Northeastern managed to stay just ahead for much of the game, forcing the Big Green to struggle repeatedly in order to catch up. The scoring began in the fourth minute, when Northeastern earned a lineout on Dartmouth's 22 m line. After multiple phases, Northeastern passed the ball out wide to a wing that scored it in the corner to put them up 7-0.

The teams traded penalty kicks to make the score 10-3 before scoring one try a piece in the remaining minutes of the first half. Dartmouth's try, which tied the game at 10-10 in the 26th minute, came off of a scrum on Northeastern's 22 m line. The Dartmouth backs passed the ball to outside center Brad Hogate '05, who threaded his way with great poise through the defense to score. Northeastern responded in the 35th minute with a try of its own that resulted from a multiplayer attack that numerically overwhelmed the defense. The half ended in favor of Northeastern, 17-10.

The second half proved to be a very different story. Aside from three points Northeastern scored on a penalty kick, Dartmouth dominated the scoreboard with 25 points. Throughout the half, fullback Andrew Caspary '06 led the team by completing two penalty kicks, scoring two tries and converting two extra points, all in a manner reminiscent of England's Johnny Wilkinson. Flyhalf Danny Williams '05 was the only other Dartmouth player to score any points in the half, and he did so when he took the ball off of a lineout on Northeastern's 15 m line in the 43rd minute and wove his way solo through the defense.

Though Caspary's accomplishments were certainly the most visible, the victory was a team effort throughout. Caspary remarked, "I was just the finisher who profited from great teamwork. Our centers [Hogate and Dan Correa '05] were especially important."

For example, in the 58th minute of the game, Caspary touched the ball into the try zone after what was perhaps Dartmouth's best team drive of the season. For 60 meters, Dartmouth players carried the ball and dished it off in continuous and dynamic play.

The 35-20 victory brought an end to Dartmouth's regular season, and moved the team into second place behind Army, with a final record of 5-2. Dartmouth also secured itself a playoff berth and a first round playoff game at home this Saturday against Syracuse University.

The winner of that match advances to the Northeastern Rugby Union Final Four, to be held in Amherst, Mass. the following weekend.