Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rugby East Drop: Bonnies, Rutgers, Penn State All Win

By Ryan Trost

The Rugby East conference season got off to a good start in Week One. There were five teams in action on Friday night, with another three hitting the pitch on Saturday. Kutztown was the only team not in action (though their 3rd side did get some time against the Scranton Men’s Division team).

Two of the teams that did play this weekend were facing non-conference opponents. Delaware was taken to task by D1-AA Rutgers University on Friday night, while Wheeling Jesuit found its bearings for the second week in a row, this time against DII Lindenwood-Belleville.

Contests between conference foes occurred also. On Friday night West Virginia tried their hand against 4th ranked Penn State in Happy Valley. That match finished true to what most expected.

In a battle for upstate bragging rights, St. Bonaventure hosted their oldest rivals from the University at Buffalo. Both teams showed much improved attacks, and the score line indicates an action packed day.

Take the jump to read more.

Outshining all of the other contests last weekend was the Friday night opener at West Point. Army (ranked 8th in the nation at the time) played host to the team that sent their season into spiral last year. The rematch with Iona proved that both teams have made the most of their preseason preparations. Possession was tight, the phases were many and the scoring was low. All of which illustrate how focused both teams were on their defensive duties.

Recaps of Army over Iona and Wheeling Jesuit over Lindenwood-Belleville are also available.

West Virginia 0 – 76 Penn State

At just about the same time as Army vs. Iona, and in similar conditions, #4 ranked Penn State hosted the West Virginia Mountaineers. Everyone knew going in that this match would be more of a question of “how large is the gap between them” than it was a question of who would win. With 12 Penn State tries coming from 7 different players, that gap would seem to be pretty substantial.

West Virginia’s hooker, Sam Krizner who missed the match due to concussion said the Mountaineers remain upbeat however. The team ethos is that there is value in the lessons that come from tough matches. That is especially true for their many younger players who are facing All-American level talent and Top-20 teams for the first time in their careers.

The depth of PSU’s talent in particular is imposing, but so too is their businesslike attitude. “Right now, we have to win the bye week,” said head coach Blake Burdette. “Recovery and film, get some of the younger guys some reps at practice to see what they’ve got. Then we have to take care of Delaware.”

Those are the answers one gets from the former Utah man, when they ask what the plan looks like going forward.

Individual takeaways from the West Virginia match included positive impressions for his fellow Utah transplant, Fr. Jordan Croft. Rob Irimescu also, who plays both flanker and lock for the Nittany Lions is player Burdette highlighted in his post-match interview. “He doesn’t get a lot of the tries, but when you turn on the film he is just everywhere.”

Something to keep in mind with regard to Penn State this year is that their depth will allow for many different on field combinations. With former Army All-Conference Fly-half Thomas Del Pino coming off the bench in this last week, one has to wonder just how rich the Lions are with talent.

As a clue, Burdette admitted, “I have 12 backs who I trust (completely).” That is a large number of backs, which makes for a lot of potential combinations. With the schedule slanted in their favor for the early going, Penn State has some time to figure out the chemistry, which is what Burdette is really looking for. One thing is for sure, that much talent - in that many combinations - makes for a lot of interesting game play.

There is no doubt this season will get more fun to watch as the year rolls on.

Rutgers 15 – 12 Delaware

In contrast to the two In-Conference matches Friday night, the Delaware Blue Hens faced D1-AA Rutgers at home. Much to the chagrin of Delaware coach Struan Murray, the lower division team got away with one, while the Hens are still getting things right for their conference season.

“’Disappointment with the aggression’ would be an understatement,” said the second year head coach. “It was very out of character of us. Guys were almost trying to (make it) look pretty instead of taking over. We lost the point of contact. We lost in defensive contact.”

It’s a tough, but important lesson for his young team to learn. One week from their crucial conference opener with Iona, Murray and his crew will want to get the team’s heads right in practice. If aggression is an issue again, the result will almost certainly be much worse. The Gaels had an excellent first round contest with Army on Friday and are very much in form with the harder parts of the game.

With a couple of days to reflect on the loss, Murray stated Sunday evening that some of the issues he recognized may have stemmed from his seniors feeling too much pressure. “They almost seemed too amped and didn’t quite know how to settle themselves. So that’s on me.”

Last week the boys didn’t have a response for the adversity. “We were much too subdued (vocally), both at half and post-match. We need more in a game like that.” Heading into Iona, Murray wants his men to be emotionally confident and physically intense. Training this week is focused on positive attitudes and aggressive actions.

How the Blue Hens bounce back from Friday’s let down will be an important tell for Murray. He said in the preseason, “If we can be physically ready and get results early, then at that stage of the season things could fall into place... it could be boom or bust though, either is possible.”

That stage of the season is quickly approaching. With Iona having circled this one for redemption and already showing their teeth against Army, McLane’s thoughts on the upcoming match are simple. “It should be fun,” he said. If Delaware rediscovers its verve and responds with steps in the right direction, watching the match should be fun for the rest of us too.

Buffalo 31 – 48 St. Bonaventure

In the season’s first old school rivalry match, UB made the short drive south to St. Bonaventure on Saturday morning. The battle was a back and forth run about with both teams scoring more than we’ve seen in the recent past.

St. Bonaventure needed the win after taking some lumps against a very good Notre Dame College a week prior. Coach Tui Osborne said that after the NDC match he wanted to see more aggression and attitude around the breakdown. With a 17 point victory over Buffalo, he is happy with the turnabout. “Today was a great win, especially against a rival,” he said. “We started a little bit slow, but picked it up late in the 1st and into the 2nd.”

On the UB side, coach Mike Hodgins was still disappointed with the loss a day later, though he was able to pinpoint some of what he thought went wrong in that final quarter of play. “It was really about two things,” he said. “One; 20 penalties with two yellows (one of which came in the 64th minute) and Two; allowing three tries in the last 15 minutes. Our fitness let us down.”

Upon reflection, Hodgins said he knew the fitness issue might be a problem, due to both of the Bulls’ pre-season matches being only 60 minute exhibitions, instead full 80 minute matches. His athletes met their off season fitness standards, but as we all know game fitness is another beast entirely. That final 20 often separates teams who are simply fit from those who are rugby fit.

Osborne had a similar assessment regarding the final stanza too. “When we were in our pattern, good things happened. We had to up the pace in the 2nd, knowing we had the conditioning edge,” said Osborne. The Bona coach had commendations for his 8-man, Alfonso DeFalco who scored once, and for his Winger, Alex Alonso. “He scored 2 tries really completing some of the good forward play we produced” said Osborne.

Scoring five tries themselves, there are definite positives for UB as well. “We were down 12-24 at half. Ten minutes into the 2nd it was 26-29, so we scored 14 to their 5 in that portion,” he said. Defensively Hodgins wants more communication from inside - out. “We played narrow and that bit us a little bit, on D.”

Up next for St. Bonaventure is a road trip to Wheeling, which should be a great test for both teams. Having started the season with a bonus getting win, the Bona men are looking to measure their performance standards against teams like Wheeling that are typically higher ranked than they. “When we play against the best I say, ‘Don’t worry about the scoreboard’. I want them to play faster, but structured, especially on defense.”

He had a similar message prior to the NDC match. In that one, Osborne wasn’t looking for the Win, he said. What he wanted to see was cohesion. “I’m looking for leadership and what they do,” he continued. Two weeks later his leadership and the Bonnies are in for another high end test. It will be fun to see what happens if his team does stick to the pattern against the kind of pressure Wheeling is certain to produce.

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