Men’s rugby upsets Penn State, draws No. 1 BYU in next round

by Matt Yuen | 4/14/16 5:29pm

In the very first round of the prestigious Varsity Cup invitational tournament, then-No. 50, now-No. 11 Dartmouth’s men’s rugby team upset then-No. 11 now-No.12 Pennsylvania State University with a 30-25 victory last Saturday, catapulting the Big Green up in the standings posted on Goff Rugby Report.

At home on the fields of Dartmouth’s very own Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse, the odds were stacked against the Big Green as they faced the top-ranked Penn State.

“Coming in as underdogs, we were really sure they were underestimating us,” captain Jack Braun ’16 said. “Nevertheless, we were confident and we wanted to show people what we were made of. We saw this as a big opportunity.”

At first glance, it almost seemed as if the matchup would be like any other, with Penn State taking home the victory. The Nittany Lions players are bigger, and in rugby size does matter. As the larger team, the Nittany Lions were going to be very physical in their plays, which creates an especially difficult rhythm for the Big Green to dance to given their typical game environment.

“The Ivy League isn’t really known as being very physical,” co-captain Erik Warnquist ’16 said. “In terms of physicality, we were a bit underrated. We had to match their physicality if we wanted to be competitive with them.”

Not only has the Big Green not played a fifteens game since the winter, the last one they did play did not feature a full team due to injuries. The game against Penn State was the first in a long time in which the full team would be playing rugby together. The Big Green had to shake off some dust if they wanted to stand a chance against Penn State, but a full team means full force, and this is where things started looking good for Dartmouth.

“This is one of the strongest Dartmouth sides I’ve played with since my time here,” Warnquist said. “We had pretty good sides my freshman and sophomore year, but we had some strong addition from football guys and guys who played before this year. We’re also seeing underclassmen taking strong leadership positions and advancing the team forward as a whole.”

In the game against Penn State, the Big Green performed with pure passion. All the sweat and tears shed had culminated into a beautiful artwork of discipline and strategy.

“We won almost every scrum in the game, which is a big point of pride for us,” Braun said. “In the game we were also pretty solid in our tackling. We also dominated possession of the ball.”

Dartmouth took Penn State by surprise as they did not expect such competitive gameplay from the Big Green. Dartmouth pushed back on Penn State’s gameplay, and Penn State began to lose control of the game, taking penalties and cards for acting unsportsmanlike

“Penn state got a little frustrated,” Braun said. “They didn’t really expect the competition we were giving them and didn’t expect to be down. We did a really good job of staying disciplined and played our game.”

Despite Penn State’s frustration, Dartmouth’s discipline remained firm, resulting in a shut down of an comeback hopes Penn State held. The victory for Dartmouth showed the quality of gameplay and determination from the Big Green, but also made a statement about Dartmouth’s rugby program as a whole.

The Varsity Cup, an invitational tournament for the nation’s best teams, presents a rare opportunity for Dartmouth to play teams outside of the Ivy League in fifteens. Winning the game against Penn State in the very first round gives the program, which has been dominant in the Ivy League but has seen mixed results elsewhere, more standing on the national rugby scene.

“I’d think that this victory set a mark for the reputation of our program nationally since Penn State is so well respected,” Warnquist said. “It put down a marker of where we stand compared to other teams.”

The team hopes to maintain momentum for tomorrow’s game against Brigham Young University. BYU, currently ranked No. 1 in the country, has been undefeated throughout the last and current season. BYU won the Varsity Cup’s inaugural tournament in 2013 and has not loss a game in the tournament since its inception.

Though the Big Green faces an uphill battle against BYU, the team’s motivation and determination to play its game remains the same.

“I think for us we’re going in with the mentality that we are going to playing the same way as we did for Penn State,” Braun said. “Disciplined and organized. I think everyone is excited. It really is a privilege to bring the number one team in the country to our home and share the clubhouse.”