Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rugby East Drop: Kutztown v St. Bona Barnburner

Photo by RonRaffPhotography
by Ryan J. Trost
This is American Rugby – Rugby East

Kutztown coach, Doc Jones said, after his team’s loss to Wheeling Jesuit in Week 5, “We learned a lot about our personnel. We were tested and learned a great deal, so that’s a positive.” Those lessons harkened a doubling down on his youth movement last week.

With six freshmen starters, and an attack pattern still new to everyone, the benefit of those changes may not have manifested until the 2nd half against St. Bonaventure, but they did eventually kick in as the Golden Bears ran away with a 60-36 victory in upstate New York.

A 24 – 10 second half, dominated by KU possession, sealed the victory for Jones’ team. In contrast, the tale of the first half had been St. Bonaventure’s ability to score on big plays following KU mistakes.  “We’re definitely a project in the works. We have to live with some (typical) young player mistakes,” said Jones. “In the second we got better. Fewer mistakes and held possession to wear them down.”

Take the jump to read more.

Possession really was the name of the game in both halves.  When the Golden Bears were crisp with their rucks and passes they ate the yardage up. When they were sloppy, or took on too much individually, St. Bonaventure seized their opportunity to counter.

At 15:00, KU was up 8 – 0, having capitalized on only two of five early scoring opportunities. A rampaging run by Stephvan Tanner set up the Bonnies’ first try. Taking the ball at depth from a midfield scrum, he broke almost half a dozen tackles before offloading to Ryan McGovern for the finish.

Now a one point game, when it could have been six, KU got back to work. Five minutes of consistent territorial drive paid off when Freshman Prop, Jake Glass returned Tanner’s serve. Also shaking off multiple tackles in a rambling cascade, Glass offloaded to Golden Bear captain, Johan Van Wyk at the five meter line. Sure handed and sure footed, Van Wyk went over for the tenth time in only four games on the season.

Again though, just when it started to feel as though Kutztown was getting comfortable, Bonaventure recoiled and struck with a cobra-like bang. KU misjudged their restart jump attempt and the error in lean was enough for Bonnies’ captain Luis Carpio to snag the air ball in stride. Thirty five meters and two offloads later, Bonaventure had again pulled to within a single point.

That’s when things really got good.

The last fifteen minutes of the half saw five more tries between the two teams. Sticking to the script, KU rattled off two converted tries, only to hand momentum back to Bona.

With under 4:00 to play in the half, the Bonnies had pulled within striking distance for the third time in the match. KU restarted play by kicking deep. Trailing 26 – 29 and having to win a lineout inside their own 22, the pressure perhaps finally got the best of St. Bonaventure. A desperate slap of the ball from their jumper started the last play awkwardly. The bouncing pill arrived late to Fly-half Christian Artuso’s hands and his kicking options were absolutely zero. His immediate second option (quick pass to the 12) was read easily by KU’s Freshman Center, Brandon Boone… Intercept. Try. Halftime lead, 36-26.

Jones’ talk at the break centered on defensive structure and holding up personal obligations both in attack and in defense. His young team listened and executed better in the second. As Jones said, they held onto possession with better passing and smarter decisions going into contact. Eliminating those transition opportunities and grinding it out eventually wore down Bonaventure’s big, passionate team.

For his part, Bona head coach, Tui Osborne agreed that the second half came down to fitness, but a large part of that is the team’s mental fitness as well. “The boys ran out of gas a bit. The match focus wasn’t there (in the 2nd) and we were falling off of tackles,” he said. “Kutztown moved the ball to space really well and used their feet. Our mental lapses were in seeing the overlap and playing the drift. (Instead), we were aggressive when we weren’t supposed to be, and vice versa.”

Overall, Osborne was happy with the continued improvement of his squad. This was what he considers the Bonnies’ best team performance on the year. Still, the fitness issue could be worrisome as they head into their final two, vital matches on the year.

 This week they played very well in the first half before falling off the mark. Two weeks ago, their story was the opposite. “Against Penn State we didn’t play in the first half… until we got pissed. So, it’s all mental with us right now,” said Osborne. In a conference as deep as Rugby East, with four teams again in the Top-20, it means something to finish ahead of the bottom five.

Right now, the Bonnies are fifth in the standings. They wrap the season with two road dates, at Delaware and Iona. To truly improve on last year’s sixth place finish, they will need to win both matches. Iona looks like they should be poised to go on a late season run, so we are still tagging that Nov. 4th match as a must watch.

Looking at Kutztown’s season-long prospects, though they are young and have a loss against them, their goal is still to win the conference. “It’s going to be very difficult to win it, but if we’re fortunate enough to win all of our remaining games, then it comes down to table points and bonus points,” said Jones. “Mathematically, we’re still in it. Delaware (this Saturday) is our last opportunity to fix some mistakes and then it’s on to Army and Penn State to see how much we’ve improved.”

KU has some very exciting talent, even if they don’t win out against the machines that are Penn State and Army, they will be a force in the near future. Bustling young athletes like Boone, Jackson Clark, D’Montae Noble and Jacob Estes have Jones’ attention already turning in that direction. “As long as we keep getting better and working on mistakes, by the time we get to Iona (for the ACRC Bowl Series on Nov. 19th), hopefully we’ll be where we need to be.”

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