by Bruce Stephenson, coach
There was trepidation in the valley. The WRFC had had its last two games cancelled and hadn’t played a competitive game in three weeks. The stakes were high. The opponent this day was Amherst.
The weather in the Purple Valley has turned to late fall. Most of the leaves have changed although there were still hints of color in the surrounding hills. The mornings are cold and the afternoon temperatures are in the mid-fifties. The rugby pitch has become wet after the heavy rains of the past few weeks. However, on this day the weather gods were smiling and there was no rain and the conditions were good for the renewal of the rivalry.
“A” Side Results
The Williams Rugby Team dispelled many doubts early and exerted immediate pressure on Amherst. They maintained this pressure throughout most of the 80 minutes of the match. When the final whistle blew the WRFC had prevailed in their bi-annual grudge match, 26-10. It was their first win over Amherst in three meetings. How sweet it was.
The kick-off had been moved forward to 11:30 due to referee availability. As the White Dawgs warmed up for the game the temperature was a cold 45 with a wind blowing. The temperature didn’t chill the Williams ruggers. The Dawgs hustled through their warm-up drills in preparation for their biggest game of the year. They won the coin toss and chose to have the wind at their back for the initial stanza.
Amherst kicked off and the White Dawgs applied immediate pressure. A kick down field put Amherst on their “back foot.” Williams earned a lineout on the Amherst 22 meter line when an Amherst player was forced out of bounds. The Williams forwards won the lineout toss and immediately formed a rolling maul that kept the ball in play and drove Amherst back toward their own goal line. The forwards drove fifteen yards before Brian Hartman ’11 took the ball out of the maul and ran toward the Amherst try line. He was tackled short but the other Williams forwards sensed the opportunity and surged forward in support. They won several rucks, each one ever closer to the try line. Steve Smith ’12 then picked up the ball and drove through several tackle attempts for the try. Williams had a 5-0 lead 2;30 into the game. Chuck Toomajian missed the 2-point conversion. It proved to be his only miss of the day.
The game settled down and play became very even. It was tough, hard-nosed rugby with both teams running hard and tackling hard. Play ebbed back and forth on the field but Williams clearly had the upper hand and exerted inexorable pressure. Williams again gained a lineout about 15 yards from the Amherst “in goal” as Amherst, yet again, was forced out of bounds (into “touch” in rugby parlance) while carrying the ball. Once again the Williams forwards won the lineout, formed a maul, and drove toward the Amherst try line. They succeeded in driving over the try line but were unable to ground the ball. In rugby you must actually touch the ball on the ground (this is where the football term “touchdown” comes from) and in this instant Amherst held the ball up and prevented it from being grounded. The result was Williams being awarded a scrum five meters from the Amherst try line because the White Dawgs had been attacking and had driven into the Amherst “in goal” (end zone in football parlance). A scrum occurred to re-start play after the stoppage in goal.
Williams has a pre-arranged play from 5-meter scrums that has the No. 8 (Brian Hartman ’11) pick the ball up and run to the right. Williams won the scrum and Brian picked up the ball as planned. His run was strong and as he was being tackled he passed to his wing Jay Gurney, who was open, ran the final three yards and touched down for a try. Chuck Toomajian kicked the difficult conversion to put the Dawgs ahead 12-0. This was in the 27th minute of the game.
It would be nice to state that Amherst folded under this pressure but they didn’t. They exerted excellent pressure of their own as the first half waned. They were able to string a number of phases together and scored a converted try (5 + 2 points) in the 38th minute. The halftime score was Williams 12; Amherst 7.
Williams had thoroughly dominated the first half but had only a 5 point lead to show for it. The Dawgs had failed three times to execute on sequences that should have resulted in tries. There were two missed passes to open players who would have easily run in to score and a knock forward (the ball fumbled forward) on the Amherst 1 yard line.
As the teams prepared to switch ends and give Amherst the wind advantage for the second half, Coach Bruce Stephenson worried. He thought the game should have been put away in the first half and feared what affect the wind would have. His half time exhortations were to concentrate on catching the kicks that were sure to come, making good passes when on attack, tackling well, and advancing together on defense.
The Amherst pressure came as expected and immediately hurt the White Dawgs. Only five minutes into the second half Amherst was awarded a penalty kick deep in Williams territory. They kicked the 3-point penalty kick. The lead was cut to 12-10. Bruce was, metaphorically, dying on the sidelines. The boys stayed calm and took over the game.
They used the ensuing kick-off to get deep into the Amherst end and they applied continuous pressure. Williams was awarded a series of scrums from Amherst errors and executed some strong back moves to maintain possession and drive even further into Amherst territory. A Williams scrum about ten meters out saw the White Dog forwards drive forward in phase after phase. Amherst tackled desperately but Williams maintained possession in the rucks. They executed pick-up and drive runs repeatedly. After approximately ten phases Carl Whipple ’12 went over for the try. Chuck Toomajian again made the conversion. Williams now led 19-10. The Dawgs had a little breathing room. This was six minutes after Amherst had closed the score to 12-10.
For the past month the Williams ruggers have been running twenty 100 yard walk-trot-sprints during each practice. The fitness level thus gained proved to be crucial as the match progressed. The size and strength advantage that Williams had, coupled with this new found fitness proved the key to final victory.
Amherst managed only feeble thrusts into Williams territory for the remainder of the game. When this occurred Williams was able to immediately gain back territorial advantage by strong running, passing, and some well placed kicks.
Williams was again deep in Amherst territory in the 67th minute (27th of the half) of the game. After a successful lineout gave Williams another possession the forwards drove toward the Amherst goal with strong pick-ups and runs. After numerous phases the ball was passed wide to Corey Benson ’11. Corey took the ball at full speed and dove into the Amherst “in goal” to score the try. Chuck again converted. The score was now 26-10.
The pace and intensity of the game took its toll on players from both teams. No player was injured but bumps, bruises and twists led to several substitutions. Lane Wang replaced Tim Marrs and played an outstanding fifteen minutes at scrumhalf. Alex Cruz replaced Kush Fanikiso with ten minutes to play and gave fresh legs and renewed intensity to a tired group of Williams forwards. Alex made several important tackles late in the game. Lane made an outstanding play when Amherst lofted a high kick into the Williams 22 meter zone. Rugby allows for a player within his own 22 to make a “fair catch” by calling “mark” as he catches the ball. Lane made such a mark with 8 minutes left in the game. A mark is rewarded with a free kick. Lane’s mark allowed him to make a free kick that cleared the ball out of the Williams end and negated the “Purple donkeys” last gasp attack,
The day ended with Williams walking off the field wearing a new set of Black & Purple Amherst jerseys. It ended a two game losing streak to the “Traitors of 1821.” It also gave the Parent’s Day crowd of over two hundred the opportunity to watch the WRFC play well and revel in success. Pictures were taken of the sartorially resplendent team under the goal posts and will soon appear on the website. Thanks to all that supported us.
“A” Side Players
Forwards: Oscar Moreno, Julio Luquin, Mike Moss, Stephen Smith, Alex Cruz, Brian Hartman, Carl Whipple, Andrew Dominitz, Javier Mariscal. Kush Fanikiso, Andrew Langston, Josh Geller.
Backs: Tim Marrs, Bryant Renaud, Corey Benson, Chuck Toomajian, Geoff McCrossan, Ian Murphy, Jay Gurney, Lane Wang, Aidan Lawrence, Stan Monfret.
“B Side Results
Amherst couldn’t field a “B side. They claimed the season had been too long and they were too beaten up. This was a major disappointment to our “B’ side. Bruce maintains that this victory over Amherst was the direct result of the willingness of the “B” siders to sacrifice by continuing to practice even while getting no games. Their efforts pushed the “A” side toward this win. Bruce would like to dedicate this win to the “B” side. You’ll get your game next week against Holy Cross. Thank you one and all.
“B” Side Players
Forwards: Josh Geller, Sam Tripp, Rene Rodriquez, Javier Mariscal, Antonio Dominquez, Hamza Zaidan, Ivan Evsyukov, David Michael, Adam Strawbridge, Rene Rodiquez
Backs: Lane Wang, Antonio Lorenzo, Aiden Lawrence, Seamus McKinsey, Fernando Lora, Sam McManama, Kyle Vilanova
Bruce became overly distracted during the Amherst game and didn’t compile an accurate record of the parents that were at the game. My apologies, but suffice it to say, you were all appreciated and helped us to this victory. Thanks so much for your support and for loaning Bruce your sons to play this marvelous game.
NEXT MATCH: Saturday, October 30th against Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Game time will probably be 1:00 PM but that has not been confirmed as of this writing. Check our webpage and await our email to confirm the actual game time.