Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rugby East Drop: Army Defeats Iona

By Ryan Trost

In a true battle of wills, the United States Military Academy rugby team stood tallest, but only just, over Iona College.

As Iona coach Bruce McLane pointed out before the season began (and again prior to the match), his team’s goal this year will often be to give themselves a puncher’s chance at the end. With most of the action taking place between the 20’s, they certainly felt they had that late into the game.

It was a bit of a redemption match for Army, who were resolute throughout. Where last year Iona’s constant pressure shook Army off its game plan, the 2016 rematch saw the Black Knights committed to not making those same mistakes. There was no running into isolation in attack and defensively almost no space offered for Iona to take advantage of.

The stats prove as much. But for Iona’s early scoring drive, a couple of kicks over the top and one prowling scamper off the 2nd half kickoff, by Fr. Santi Mascolo, Iona never got behind Army’s bend but don’t break defense.

Take the jump to read more.

Army’s offense wasn’t exactly high flying either though. Their only try in fact came off of great defense, when #6 Ben Lemon charged down an Iona kick for touch from inside the 22. Hooker Ryan Moshak was Johnny on the Spot for Army, picking the ball up from the ensuing scramble and lunging in for five.

Other than that, the point getting was left to the able leg of Army Fly-half, Jon Kim. Kim was again very good from the field. His kicking accounted for every piece of the 11 point difference in the match… three penalties and one conversion.

Don’t be fooled by the highlights. The relatively low final score belies the match’s true entertainment value. If you enjoy confrontation, tackles and intensity, this game had it all. Both coaches lauded praise on their own and the other team afterward. “I’m very happy with the result,” said Army’s, Matt Sherman. “We respect Iona as a team. We really had to work to win. They were scrappy and punched above their weight, which is what we expected.”

The boxing superlatives from both coaches are apropos. Played in 90 degree heat and high humidity at West Point, the game had the feel of a grinding 15 round classic.

Body-blow after body-blow, players on both sides slowed to get up as the game wore on, yet repeatedly found their 100% again anytime a pass or breakdown came near. Iona’s Flankers, Jon Petteruti and John D’Allara especially seemed to be at the bottom of every ruck. Though, to be fair, Petteruti’s neon socks did make him pretty easy to spot on the night.

 “I’d play a game like that every week,” said McLane. “The amount of fun, that was pretty great. It was an honor to have been involved in such a competitive match.”

Asked what they thought the difference was between the two, Sherman spoke up for his Inside Center, Luke Heun and his front three. “I thought Luke was the best player on the field,” he said. “He had 20-plus tackles and did a great job getting wide. Credit to Iona though, for cutting that off over and over… They did a great job taking away space.”

Elaborating on the work of his front three, “I think we were able to grind them down in the end. We won 3 scrums to close it out. We didn’t overwhelm them by any means, but I thought we were just a little more dominant at the end when we needed it.”

Asked the same question, McLane put any blame squarely on himself. “(The guys) did everything we asked. We should have been better at exit strategies, but that’s on me… There’s not a guy on the team who I’m disappointed with.”

The history between these two is developing very nicely for Rugby East. Both teams are noted for their work rate and defense. Both teams know to expect it from each other and most thrillingly, both take pride in being able to hang their hats on performances like this one.

Army fell to #10 in the D1A Top-20 this week and will host West Virginia on Saturday. We could see some new faces in Matt Sherman’s starting XV as some younger players have  put their hands up with very competitive performances in 2nd team games this month.

Iona is back home in New Rochelle this weekend to face Delaware in a redemption of match of their own. It was the Blue Hens who were last able to knock the Gaels back, in their ACRC Bowl Series match last November. 

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