All-American rugby defeats Cambridge

by Gayne Kalustian | 6/23/14 4:51pm

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Dartmouth played host to the Men’s Collegiate All-American rugby team this weekend, a collection of the best players from around the country who, less than 10 days before their debut this Saturday, were chosen to come together after a four-day camp at Merrimack College. The team, captained by Madison Hughes ’15, was split in two and competed against the visiting Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club and the Collegiate Barbarians of Ontario on Saturday.

The All-Americans dismantled the Cambridge Light Blues, concluding with a decisive 27-15 victory, but the second team of All-Americans finished on the wrong side of a hotly contested 35-32 match against Ontario.

Hughes, a three-time All-American and a cornerstone of Dartmouth’s own rugby club, captained the MCAAs after playing for the U.S. on the Sevens National Team in New Zealand this winter.

Playing international rugby is a completely different experience than the one he has had playing for the Big Green, he said, because more players have rugby experience.

“Rather than having a couple of guys out there doing the decision making, you’ve got one through 23, really,” Hughes said. “There are decision makers on the field at every position.”

Hughes and the rest of the squad are playing under the leadership of returning MCAA coach Matt Sherman, who coaches Stanford University’s men’s rugby team and has coached the U.S. Senior National Rugby team.

In the first game against Cambridge, the Americans wasted no time, scoring on a penalty in the second minute to notch the first three points of the game. Kingsley McGowan, of Saint Mary’s College of California, found the opportunity to score with perfect placement between the posts, punctuated by a good conversion by Niku Kruger of Kutztown University.

After a good kick for post by Cambridge, the Americans rounded out their lead to 17-3 in the 24th minute of the first half after Paris Hollis of Life University broke through down the right sideline, scoring the final try of the half.

As the second half opened, Cambridge underwent a revival, taking advantage of several penalties committed by the Americans. The penalties, Sherman said, indicated a lack of discipline for the Americans. Cambridge, running with the momentum, scored its first try of the game in the seventh minute.

Nate Brakeley ’12, playing for Cambridge, ran in for a try to bring the score to 17-15, untied after Cambridge missed the conversion.

Because the Americans are not used to playing together, the team must improve on working as a unit to be more effective in the scrum, Hollis said.

“We need to develop a little bit more on our team cohesion,” Hollis said. “Obviously we’ve only been together a week, and they’ve been together forever so if we do that it will all connect and we’ll be successful.”

But the Americans reasserted control in the second half, ignited by a kick down the line to Sebastian Sharpe of the University of California at Los Angeles. Sharpe pressured Cambridge, forcing the Light Blues to kick out and give the Americans a line out just outside the try zone. The Americans then took full advantage of the positioning, scoring on the next play.

The Americans scored the final try of the game when Hollis smashed through with a half-field run, breaking tackles and diving into the try zone to finalize the 12-point lead. Settling down and recuperating after giving ground to Cambridge, Sherman said, was a highlight for the team.

“That was probably the biggest strength of the game today,” he said. “We actually were more together during the game. We didn’t implode. We actually fixed some things and got better.”

Despite showing signs of life earlier in the half and even after winning a scrum just outside the try zone, Cambridge could not permeate the Americans’ back line and were forced away by three consecutive spot-on tackles.

The second team of All-Americans played the Barbarians neck and neck, losing 35-32.

Maintaining a 10-point deficit as the game drew to a close, the Americans hovered around the try zone for several minutes, running in the last try in the match’s closing seconds. The last-minute score was not enough to send the Americans to their second victory.

Moving forward, Sherman said, the two All-American rosters will see some adjustments before the team challenges Cambridge again in Canton, Massachusetts, and faces off with the Ontario Blues, their toughest competition, this week.