University of Richmond Spiders v. Hampden-Sydney College Tigers
5 (1 T) – 31 (5 T, 3 C) (Win)
HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, VA – Hampden-Sydney College’s Rugby Football Club celebrated 50 years on Friday and Saturday, September 21-22, 2018. The Saturday match pitted the University of Richmond Spiders against the Hampden-Sydney Tigers. This match was the season opener for each side, an event as-scheduled for the Spiders but owing to two cancelations for the Tigers. Their scheduled opening match against George Mason University Patriots on September 15 was canceled by George Mason due to a lack of registered and eligible players. The second match, scheduled for September 22 against Christopher Newport Captains was a casualty of Hurricane Florence preparation at both institutions.
This was the fourth meeting between the two sides in the last year going back to October 21, 2017, when the Spiders bested the Tigers 31-22 at Hampden-Sydney. The rematch two weeks later at the conference tournament in Salem resulted 24-21 in the Tigers’ favor, giving them third place for the year. Finally, in February, the two sides met at Richmond, where the Tigers put on an impressive performance, notching a 62-point victory over the Spiders, 69-7. The Tigers expected to continue the kind of dominant play they had shown at Richmond in February, but the match was very plainly a first-of-the-season for both teams.
The surest evidence of the sloppy play came in handling errors. Knock-ons and forward passes seemed at times the defining feature of each team’s offense. These errors resulted in 25 scrums (the 26th would have resulted had the referee not blown full time) on the day, eleven to Hampden-Sydney and fourteen to Richmond. Hampden-Sydney was 100% effective on its own scrum and took two of Richmond’s away.
Winning set pieces, especially at the lineout, is a crucial part of Richmond’s strategy, which revolves around securing possession at set pieces and in the loose and then kicking for territory. At the lineout, fortunately, the Tigers were even more dominant than in the scrum. While Richmond won two of the Tigers’ six lineouts on the day, they also only managed to win two of their own ten, conceding two for not being thrown straight (the first became a scrum and the latter a lineout, both won by the Tigers), and the other six being stolen by the Tigers in the air. Effectively the Tigers “won” 80% of the other team’s lineouts on the day, which dealt a significant blow to the kick-for-possession play style Richmond employs.
For both teams the most disappointing thing and the surest sign of having to shake off some beginning-of-season rust were the discipline breakdowns that resulted in penalties and cards. Both teams were repeatedly penalized for high tackles and other forms of dangerous play, eventually resulting in a yellow card to each side for dangerous play. The Tigers additionally lost a player to another yellow card for dissension and to a red card for a dangerous tackle in the final minutes of the match. The referee acknowledged that the tackle was not malicious, but the law requires he card the offending player and, given the number of yellow cards already shown, he elected to eject the offending player. These discipline breakdowns were unfortunate and cannot be tolerated going forward. The referee was completely within his rights to punish players with suspensions from play and ejections in each of the cases; indeed, it may have been necessary to maintain order. Both teams were rusty, playing at a level of skill well below their capability, and relying on adrenaline and physicality instead of skill and finesse. In that situation, the referee must act to keep the game orderly and safe; his primary tool in doing this is game management through verbal orders, but when that fails, he must resort to penalties and finally to cards. Our play put us past verbal warning and eventually past the point of penalty. We must clean up the quality and cleanliness of our play.
The Tigers kicked off to the Spiders to start the match and turned the first ruck over, taking possession. A mishandling out of the ruck, however, led to the Tigers kicking possession away instead of conceding a knock-on scrum to the Spiders. Fortunately, mishandling buy the Spiders gave a scrum to the Tigers around 30m from the Spider line. From the scrum, the Tigers lost ground moving the ball toward the middle of the field, but their forwards reversed flow and took the ball to nearly the 22m line. From that ruck, the Tiger backs moved the ball through hands to Dylan Cate on the wing who took the ball into contact. Richmond turned the ball over, but played on the ground in the next ruck, giving the Tigers a penalty nearly 16m from the Richmond line. Scrum-half Brennan Vaught took the kick quickly and ran through the Spider line on his way into the try zone and under the uprights for the first score of the day. His own kick was good and the Tigers led 0-7.
The first score was in the third minute of the match, but over ten minutes of handling mistakes, set pieces, and restarts would pass before either team could score. Richmond played most of this span in the Tiger half of the pitch and nearly all of it between the Richmond 10m and the Tiger 22m. Several times the Spiders found themselves inside the Tiger 22m, but the Tiger defense held. The break in the back-and-forth came when Richmond kicked the ball deep into the Tiger defense, where fullback Alex Dent fielded the kick and ran back before kicking the ball back up field. A Tiger player, however, was offside in front of the kick and gave Richmond a penalty. The Spiders kicked the ball into touch near the Tiger line and set up the lineout. If Richmond had won this lineout, a try would have been theirs for the taking. Fortunately, flanker Chris Beattie tipped the throw and 8man Lawson Omer swatted it to Brenan Vaught, who passed to the Tiger backs. Flyhalf Gray Breeden offloaded to center Lucas Blankenship, whose runs had already broken the Richmond line twice. Blankenship got the ball out of the 22m before offloading in the tackle to his other center, Scott Bowman. Bowman made a few more meters and drew yet another Richmond defender into a tackle as he offloaded to wing Dylan Cate. Cate took the ball another 10m before finding Flyhalf Gray Breeden, who had run in support, on the inside. Gray ran nearly 20m and broke the Spiders’ 10m before being tackled. This sequence of play epitomizes the kind of rugby we want to play; it is free, open, fast, and highlights our players’ athleticism and team chemistry. When it all comes together, there is little anyone can do to stop it, as the Spider defense showed. In the ruck following the tackle (a ruck formed by Bowman, Cate, and fullback Alex Dent, all running on in support), Richmond committed a penalty to slow down play. Scrum-half Brennan Vaught was there to take the kick quickly and scampered over 30m into the try zone for his and the Tigers’ second try of the day in the fifteenth minute. His kick was good, extending the lead 0-14.
Richmond answered almost immediately, just a little over a minute later. The Tigers mishandled the kick restart, knocking the ball on and into touch. The Spiders chose to take the scrum, which they won, but were immediately tackled. Out of the ruck, a Tiger and a Spider player were contending for the ball as they went to ground. The referee determined that the Spider player had possession and penalized the Tiger player for not releasing the tackled player. The Spiders, this time, took the penalty kick quickly and charged forward before the Tigers could retreat and set up. spider Scrum-half Nicholas DeMuria ran forward drawing defenders before offloading to hooker Cord Fox, who broke one tackle on his way over the try line. Richmond was on the scoreboard, but their kick was no good. Still, they cut the Tiger lead to 9, now trailing 5-14.
The final points of the first half came nearly twenty minutes later in the thirty-seventh minute. The Tigers had a lineout about 25m from the Spider try line. The Tigers went to the front of the line and the Spider defense came forward early, giving the Tigers penalty advantage for offsides. Instead of taking the kick quickly, since many of the defense were already back the requisite ten meters, the Tigers ran a pods play and Brennan Vaught offloaded to prop Chris De Salvo who barreled forward and broke the line, being brown down about seven meters from the try line. The Tigers worked through two quick rucks with forwards before Vaught passed to Breeden, who found Bowman on a short skip-pass. Bowman cut inside one defender, frustrating a tackle attempt, and broke the try line for his first score of the season. Vaught’s kick was no good, but the lead grew again, 5-19.
The second half, sadly, was not better for either side than the first. Fatigue caused sloppiness to increase and poor decisions turned into penalties and cardings. The first try of the second half came in the forty-sixth minute. The Tigers had a number of penalties inside ten meters of the Spider try line, but could not find the try zone with inside crash plays. In each instance, there was space and an overload outside; we need to do a better job assessing where the strength of our formation is. One play was thwarted when a Spider defender entered the ruck illegally from the side and poached the ball. The next penalty play inside resulted in a held-up try and a 5m scrum to the Tigers. We won our scrum and Chris Beattie took the ball from the weak side and charged toward the try line. He was tackled a meter or two short and prop Chris De Salvo picked the ball out of the ruck and fell forward over the line, downing the ball and scoring the try. Vaught’s kick was good, the score now 5-26.
The final score of the match came eighteen minutes later in the sixty-forth minute. Playing a man down, the Tigers won a penalty and set up a counter-attack from just inside their own 10m line. Vaught took the kick quickly and offloaded in the tackle to Lawson Omer, who passed to Lucas Blankenship. Blankenship made nearly 20m before being tackled by three Spider defenders, he popped the ball up off the ground to fullback Alex Dent who was running on in support. Alex had just broken the 22m line when he was tackled around the neck from behind by a Spider player. The referee elected not to award a penalty try but instead gave the Tigers a penalty there and stopped play for a moment to give a yellow card to the offending tackler. The Tigers set up pods and crashed inside, recycling the ball from the ruck to the backs, who passed down the line to wing Dylan Cate. Cate was not held in his first tackle and got back on his feet to make another meter and give his support time to get there. The Tigers won the ruck and Vaught passed out of the ruck to Blankenship who was running on. Blankenship broke one tackle, made another defender miss, and carried a third the final five meters into the try zone. Vaught’s kick was no good but these points cemented the final score 5-31.
In the second half we had to rely on substitutions for injuries and to account for personnel problems in light of our suspended and ejected players. To a man, our substitutes performed well and we saw little diminution in quality. This is particularly true in the back line, where replacements came on and all-but-seamlessly integrated. Before the end of the match, we had replaced everyone but Breeden and I believe our “second” back line was overall stronger than the Spiders’ first. We simply have depth in talent and training at nearly every position. When we work our game plan and execute it well, we are formidable side, far-and-away the best rugby team I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with in any capacity—much less as a solo coach. It’s hard to be dissatisfied with a 26-point victory, but when I compare how we played to how we could and should have played, I recognize there were many aspects of our game that need to improve. At the top of that list is discipline, mental and physical. We cannot play a shoddy game against better opponents and expect good outcomes to follow. This match was a solid win, even if it wasn’t as good as we would have liked. It is an important first step in the growth and development this team will have to undergo this season.
The Tigers are next in action on October 6 when they travel to Harrisonburg, VA, to play James Madison University’s Developmental team.