Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Pittsburgh, PA – Two national champions were crowned Sunday as Radcliffe College and the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater prevailed over their respective opponents in the pouring rain at the Emirates Airline USA Rugby 2011 Men’s and Women’s DII College Championships at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The women of Radcliffe College played a physical and bruising game against opponents Notre Dame in the muggy and wet conditions in Pittsburgh to claim their title. With a final score of 22-10, Notre Dame kept attacking and always looked like they were about to make big breaks and long runs, but the Radcliffe defense was too tenacious and hard-hitting.
Much of the game was played near the halfway line as the ball was slipping from hands and out of rucks regularly, a reflection on the field conditions more than the athleticism of both teams.
Notre Dame started to get worn down by the rumbling Radcliffe pack as they punched the ball through the forwards. The Irish tackling didn’t relent, but the intensity of the Notre Dame defense became less and less as the game wore on and fatigue set in.
Radcliffe flyhalf, Evan Hoese, was named Most Valuable Player in the championship game, pressuring Notre Dame with her formidable attacking prowess with ball in hand. Hoese was also named Harvard Club Athlete of the Year earlier this season.
In the men’s fixture, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks matched up with Middlebury College as the rain intensified on Sunday. Not many points were scored in the game, with a final score of 7-3.
Scrums ended up playing a prominent role in the title game as the wet ball turned out to be both teams’ toughest opponent. Whitewater had a solid scrum and Middlebury’s push occasionally wreaked havoc, but overall the Warhawks’ scrum was solid.
Kicking was a large part of the game as well, with the fullbacks volleying kicks, trying to force the other into a handling error or knock on.
The only try in the game came through the game’s Most Valuable Player and Junior All-American, Charles Koehler.
Koehler was a force the entire game and his ability to punish the defense with his runs from the fringes and the base of the scrum suited the conditions. When the Warhawks’ flyhalf took to the sidelines with injury, Koehler even took over the kicking duties for his team.
Middlebury’s attack was stunted by the conditions and their style of play in their semifinal win Saturday against Salisbury was all but impossible to execute in the pouring rain Sunday. Saturday saw Middlebury spreading the ball wide, running intricate backline moves with dummy runners and cut-out passes, the likes of which were rarely if ever seen in the championship game.
A lone penalty kick from flyhalf, Brian Sirkia, accounted for Middlebury’s final tally in the title game, and wasn’t enough in the end despite a flurry of activity inside the Warhawks’ 22 as the clock moved towards expiration.
Whitewater’s forwards deserve a lot of credit for the win as their work at the breakdown and their punishing runs kept Middlebury defense backpedaling and under pressure.