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Sunday, November 22, 2015

ACRC: Delaware Bests Iona

By Ryan Trost

Spectators at Iona’s New Rochelle campus were treated to a special ACRC Bowl match on Saturday between the Iona Gaels and Delaware Blue Hens. The match was sponsored by the Quinn for the Win, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge non-profit organization. Proceeds raised on the day are being donated to the Quinn for the Win cause, which helps ALS warriors like Quinn with personal development needs beyond the funds raised in the name of research for the national organization. Challenge co-founder and Iona Rugby alum Pat Quinn was himself on hand for the event, which was played in high spirits by both team.

The final score would see Delaware outclass their rivals at Iona by a score of 36 – 29. That one score difference was indicative of the competitiveness of the entire match, which saw four lead changes, start to finish. Iona got on the board early with a try by their 6’7” 8-man Evan Staikos, but the tide was quickly turned as Delaware was able to surprise the tightly defending Gaels with quick moves to the outside. Delaware fullback and Captain Chris Mattina hauled in a hat trick of tries in the first half, deftly slotting himself into the backline movements in a myriad of channel attacks.

Take the jump to read more.

As expected by Head Coach, Struan Murray, the Hens were moving fast and bringing purposeful aggression into the contact area. The pressure exerted in breakdowns opened up room out wide for Mattina’s first two tries. Never to be out done in a physical battle, Iona stood ground and amped up their defense, even while Delaware continued asserting pressure. A good mauling drive in the corner finished off by Prop Tyler Ringwood plowing over kept things even as the tempers of both teams also began to rise.

Just past the 20 minute mark, the referee took control of some extra-curricular activities that were creeping into the game, though perhaps he was a bit too swift with yellow cards as the Gaels found themselves down to just 12 men at one point.

Most of the damage from those cards was done while down just one man, after the Gaels’ Inside Center, Mike Scarcella was shown to the sin bin for a late tackle. It was during this phase of play that Mattina scored his third try, followed shortly thereafter by Delaware’s own #12, John McCurdy exploiting the gap left by the carded player for the team’s fourth try on the half.

Shortly before Scarcella was allowed back on, two more cards were shown to Iona. One served to Fly-Half Mike Marro and the other simultaneously to Prop Tyler Ringwood. Bruce McLane’s Iona team did a good job though of snapping into focus in that last stanza of the half and played some great defensive rugby. Scarcella’s return, it must be pointed out also had an enormous effect on their defensive shape during that crucial final ten minutes of the half. In post-game comments Murray broke those moments down for us. He stated, “When the next two got carded we sort of lost track and didn’t really exploit it… and kept attacking where we’d always been attacking.” He was also quick to point out how well Iona reacted to the adversity though, “Boy did they defend well when that was the case, and it wasn’t even (just) their hitting, but their alignment and their structure. They were cutting in and pushing out.”

Truly, even though Iona was down ten points as the whistle blew, it felt like they had momentum in their favor. Murray continued, “That was probably why I was worried near the end, because if they can do that with 13 guys, then realistically, what can they do with 15?” So, anticipation of a great second half was brewing throughout the stadium and after a sure discussion with their head coach during the break, the Gaels indeed came out firing on all cylinders.

The first ten minutes of the second saw two Iona scores even things out. One came off a darting series of moves by Scarcella and the other from Fullback, John Powers surging his way to paydirt. Things started to settle into parity for a while, before Staikos found himself powering over for his second try of the match. That gave Iona the lead and set up an excellent last quarter of the match.

Delaware’s Fly-Half, Tom Abram returned fire with a long scamper resulting from an excellent inside-dummy shake. That move bought him enough space to kick into high gear near midfield. The score being even again, Iona mounted increasing pressure over breakdowns. The referee was diligent about technique though, calling a penalty with only a handful of minutes left to play. The ensuing set piece put Mattina over for his fourth try from about five meters out. Delaware’s stellar #15 also had three successful conversion kicks on the day and thus accounted for all but ten of the Hens’ 36 points.

Looking back at the scouting reports of both coaches, this game really was a feast. All of the expectations held true. Tough, physical confrontations… fast, wide, decisive moves in the backline of both squads. In the end, Delaware came away with more shine and carried their smiles triumphantly to their team bus for the long drive back down the turnpike. Iona gathered some lessons about themselves and held their heads high as well though, knowing they never let up in the face of that adversity. All in all it was a great ACRC bowl match, held for a great cause on a beautiful, sunny NY afternoon.

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