After a rocky start to the match, the Tigers found their rhythm around the 5th minute and never looked back. It was a solid attacking and defensive effort, highlighted by characteristically strong set pieces and superior support in the loose. The Tigers went into the half with a 33-point lead and only expanded it as their comparative fitness made the difference in the second half. Hampden-Sydney Rugby is on the road next weekend in Radford, VA. Kickoff is set for 1pm.
Full Match Report from Coach Lea:
October 20, 2018
Longwood University Lancers v. Hampden-Sydney College Tigers
0 – 71 (11 T, 8 C) (Win)
HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, VA – October 19-20 marked Homecoming weekend for Hampden-Sydney College. Among the morning’s planned events was a rugby match with long-term, cross-town rival Longwood University. The Tigers and the Lancers have not played each other in an official match since I returned to the College and began coaching in the fall of 2015, the previous match longer ago still. The history of these two rugby programs goes back decades to within a few years of Longwood’s going coeducational. The 1984 Kaleidoscope includes photos of the team, a short write-up, and a table of results, among those a 6-to-9 loss to a team simply listed as “Longwood.” My years (and those of many readers’) as a player and student coach were not a time of good relations between the two sides; open animosity on and off the field turned matches into unpleasant—even dangerous—events.
Much has changed. In our first year running the program, Paul Brammer and I scheduled a scrimmage against Longwood before our opening match. It was remarkably civil and Longwood’s typical bruising form of rugby was a good wake-up call to many of our younger players about the realities of competitive rugby against a team a bracket above ours. Longwood left our field that day having spent most of the scrimmage inside our 22m knocking on the door and many times making entrances. Before they left, we gave their players and their then-coach use of our field for some practice time. Gone was the animosity and in its place the camaraderie that genuine athletic competition is supposed to form. When our sides met the next year, we were much more evenly-matched, in part because of our side’s growth as a team but also due to rough times for Longwood. I learned from the players that Longwood’s coach from the previous year had been forced to leave the team for other commitments and they were relying on player coaches. Longwood’s season last fall was definitely a disappointing one for a proud and once so successful program. Weather problems and some mutual procrastination prevented our two sides from scrimmaging this fall, but I was delighted to see that Longwood has found a coach, who comes up from Richmond to train with their guys a few times a week. If Longwood keeps its coach, it has all the tools it needs to come back to prominence; it’s only going to be a matter of time and patience.
Uncertainty, owing to a lack of a scrimmage and questions about where Longwood was as a team following last year’s results, left us a bit in the dark about how to prepare for this match. We expected bruising, physical play from Longwood. They delivered. We expected athleticism. They had plenty of it. We expected we would need to play better rugby and not merely try to push them around to beat them. We played our best rugby of the year.
As in the previous match, however, the Tigers got off to an uncharacteristically sluggish start. They took the opening kick and worked through a number of phases getting outside their own 22m but, while trying to get the ball to the wide side of the field, knocked the ball on, giving the Lancers a scrum inside the Tiger 22m. The Tiger scrum continues to improve and showed off its skill on the first scrum, pushing the Lancers back over the ball and winning the scrum. The Tigers kept possession through a number of phases, briefly crossing the 22m line before retreating behind it trying to find space. Longwood’s defense was organized and aggressive, though perhaps a little too aggressive (demonstrated by their high tackle penalties during the match). The Tigers, however, committed the first penalty of the day when a Tiger player came in from the side on an attacking ruck just on the Tiger 22m. The Lancers podded up and the attacking player broke the first tackle and made his way to within five meters of the Tiger goal line before being tackled. Longwood recycled through a number of phases, first close to the ruck, then out wide, then back in close to the ruck, all the time inching a little closer. The Tiger defense held, but committed another penalty of being offside at the ruck. Longwood this time ran the penalty close, set a ruck, but pushed to the wide side, getting the ball to their wing. In the tackle, however, he threw an elbow at the Tiger defender, drawing a penalty for the Tigers.
The Tigers kicked to touch, won their own throw-in at the lineout, and moved the ball toward mid-field. An offside penalty by Longwood gave the Tigers the ball at their own 10m and, after a crash and recycle at the ruck, they worked the ball to the wide side. Wing Mason Sale was tackled into touch but the Tigers had found that the Lancer defense on the wing was not nearly as strong as it was in their forwards or between their centers on the back line. Flanker Chris Beattie won the Lancer throw-in, and the Tigers took the ball back toward the middle of the pitch where 8man Lawson Omer set a ruck just past the midfield line. When a Lancer player was penalized for not rolling away, scrum-half Brennan Vaught took the kick quickly and cut through the Lancer defenders, crossing the Lancer 22m and passing toward but behind oncoming support. Prop Chris De Salvo dove onto the ball to keep possession, and the Tigers played through three more phases before fly-half Gray Breeden took a pass out of the ruck and found Lawson Omer about twenty-five meters out from the goal line. Lawson cut inside the first defender and then inside the backside pursuit before downing the ball in the try zone. Omer’s try came in the 7th minute and marked the start of the Tigers’ run. Brennan Vaught’s kick was good and the Tigers took a seven-point lead, 0-7.
The second score of the day came in the 14th minute, six minutes after the conversion kick. The intervening time was filled with standard back-and-forth rugby, punctuated by handling mistakes. Those six minutes saw three scrums, two to Longwood and one for Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers won the first of Longwood’s, much as they had the previous one, but failed to capitalize on it fully, instead giving another scrum to Longwood after a forward pass. Longwood won this scrum and worked through phases trying to find a weakness in the Tiger defensive line, eventually knocking the ball on just beyond their own 22m. The Tigers won their scrum and took the ball down the back line and through two phases before a Longwood player committed a penalty by not releasing the tackled player in the third ruck. Scrum-half Brennan Vaught again took the kick quickly, before the Lancers could retreat the requisite ten meters, and was tackled. The referee immediately gave the Tigers another penalty (for the Lancers’ having not retreated) and put the defense on their own goal line. Lock Conor Cusick crashed just outside the goal line and the Tigers set a strong ruck, allowing flanker Chris Beattie to crash the ball past two Lancer defenders who were expecting the scrum-half to pass the ball out. Vaught’s kick was good and the lead grew. 0-14.
Nearly ten minutes would pass before the Tigers could break into the try zone again, which they would do in the 24th minute. The Tigers knocked the ensuing kick restart on and gave the Lancers a scrum on the Tiger 22m. Hampden-Sydney’s pack saved the team from feeling the pressure in-part by once again pushing the Lancer scrum and wheeling it. The Tigers were about to pick the ball when the referee gave a penalty for a Longwood flanker breaking off the scrum early. The kick clearance sailed past the midfield line, but the Tigers gave possession away in the lineout when the short-throw pass did not go the requisite five meters. The referee awarded a free kick to the Lancers, who made a tactical mistake and kicked the ball into touch. The Tiger lineout, this time, was inside their own 22m, which precipitated a designed play to get the ball out of the 22m and into touch. The ensuing Lancer lineout, about thirty meters from the Tiger goal line, went awry when the referee ruled the throw was not straight. The Tigers elected to take the scrum instead of the lineout and, having won the scrum, passed the ball to the wide side of the field. A Lancer penalty for not releasing the tackled player gave the Tigers options. They kicked into touch and set up a lineout just inside the Longwood 10m. Beginning with this Tiger lineout, the Lancers ceased trying to win our ball with jumping but instead set up to crash through the line. Prop Spencer Parrish took the short throw and set a ruck in the middle of the Lancer lineout forwards. Quick recycling saw the ball in the hands of 8man Chris Beattie (having moved from flanker as Lawson Omer had to be replaced for an injury). The next ruck got the ball to fly-half Gray Breeden, who found center Lucas Blankenship just inside the Lancer 10m line. Lucas cut inside one defender and was untouched on his run into the try zone. This was his third try of the season and his only in this match. Brennan Vaught’s kick was good. 0-21.
The Tigers would see several more scoring opportunities in the first half and would capitalize on two of them, in the 30th and the 38th minute. The first came moments after the conversion kick and restart. Hampden-Sydney took the restart and ran through several phases, eventually conceding a penalty for diving over at their own ruck about thirty-five meters from the Longwood goal line. Longwood took the penalty with pods and kept possession through two phases before breaking the Tiger defensive line near the midfield line. This was the first significant break in the Tiger defense and Longwood’s first real opportunity to attack since the opening minutes of the match. The Longwood player who broke the line was tackled just outside the 22m and threw over his inside shoulder to another Lancer, who caught the ball and was tackled at the 22m. Without support, however, Longwood turned the ball over and the Tigers started a counter-attack. With a number of passes and two great offloads in the tackle, the Tigers got the ball across the field and over the midfield line, setting a ruck just inside the touch line on the Lancer 10m. Through two phases, the Tigers worked the ball back across the field to nearly the 5m line at the Lancer 22m. Having created the overload they needed, the Tigers struck quickly: Vaught to Breeden, who drew one defender and passed to Blankenship. Blankenship skipped one tiger attacker to Beattie, who drew the last defender in the line and immediately passed to Sale, who took the ball just inside the 22m and ran in untouched ahead of two pursuing Longwood defenders. Vaught’s kick from the corner of the field was no good, but the lead once again grew. 0-26.
The final points of the half came not long before the whistle. The kick restart failed to go the requisite ten meters and the Tigers elected a scrum at center field. They won their scrum but the Lancer scrum-half was offside and tackled Vaught early as he was going to pass the ball. Christ De Salvo received the pass from the tap kick and charged forward, offloading to Chris Beattie just outside the 10m line. Beattie barreled inside the Longwood 22m before trying to use the ball in the tackle and knocking it on. Longwood recovered but could do nothing with the ball and received the scrum for the knock-on. Longwood won their scrum and kicked the ball away; it failed to find touch, however, and fullback Alex Dent recovered the kick and started a counter-attack to the far side of the field. He was tackled and the Tigers knocked the ball on in the ruck, giving the Lancers a scrum about four meters from the midfield line. The scrum wheeled as the ball came out the far side of the tunnel so the referee awarded a new scrum to Longwood. They won this scrum but their inside center knocked the ball on while trying to execute a switch inside. Brennan Vaught recovered the ball and tossed it from the ground to Lucas Blankenship, who charged down inside the Lancer 22m before offloading in a tackle to wing Scott Bowman. The Tigers kept possession for two more phases before knocking the ball on, giving a scrum to Longwood five meters from their own try line. Longwood won their scrum but mishandled the connection between the 8man and the scrum-half, leaving the ball on the ground. Flanker Brendan Schwartz had just come off the scrum and rushed forward, picking the ball up and diving over the line and placing the ball down for his first career try. Vaught’s kick was good and the Tigers had a substantial halftime lead. 0-33.
The Tigers didn’t wait long into the second half (the 42nd minute) to get on the scoreboard again. They won their only kick restart of the day as prop Chris De Salvo jumped and won the ball about one foot inside the 10m line, having positioned himself with plenty of time to judge the high-hanging kick. The Tigers’ use of the ball, however, was less beautiful as bad timing in the back line saw the ball skip along the ground just outside midfield and into Longwood’s possession. Steady defense, however, shut down the Lancer attack and pushed them back beyond their own 10m. Two phases later, Hampden-Sydney conceded a penalty at a defensive ruck by not rolling away from the tackle. Longwood used the penalty to run a crash play, but Tiger prop Spencer Parrish took the opportunity to counter-ruck two unprepared Lancer forwards. Prop Chris De Salvo rushed in to claim the ball, picking it up and running toward open field. He drew the first defender and passed to wing Mason Sale, who ran at first toward the pursuit then swerved away into the corner for his second try of the day and fourth of the season. Brennan Vaught’s kick, though from a tight angle, bounced off and over the crossbar. 0-40.
The Tigers’ next try came moments later in the 47th minute. The Tigers fielded the kick restart cleanly and went to work on their offense. They were unable to generate much and, despite getting a scrum from a Lancer knock-on, eventually conceded a penalty for not releasing the ball at the ruck. Longwood again took the opportunity to run a podded crash play, then passed the ball to their backs who were making progress up-field before knocking the ball on while trying to offload to the wing in a tackle. The Tigers had a scrum about thirty meters from their own line in between the 5m and 15m line. The Tigers won the scrum and Brennan Vaught picked the ball as the Longwood scrum-half was attempting to tackle him. Vaught broke free and spun away, getting his composure just in time to see a gap between the Lancer flanker and the fly-half. Vaught he ran through the gap in the defense, outrunning the pursuit with only the fullback to beat at midfield. A quick dummy sat the fullback down long enough to cut inside him and make it to the try line before being tackled. He made his own conversion and the lead grew yet again. 0-47.
Ten minutes later fullback Alex Dent would score his first try of the season and his first from fullback. The try was set up by a Lancer penalty for offside at a Tiger ruck. Prop Chris De Salvo took the pass from Brennan Vaught after the tap kick and he charged forward, breaking a tackle and being brought down near the Lancer 22m. He lost possession and Longwood recovered, though they were unable to make any territorial gain over two phases of attack. Their scrum-half attempted a long pass but it skidded along the ground in front of the inside center, who picked it up and was immediately wrapped up. He passed out of the tackle, but this pass, too, didn’t find a target and wing Mason Sale picked it up, turning over possession to the Tigers. Longwood tried to recover the ball in the tackle, but the Tigers held on, setting another ruck. Vaught passed out of the ruck to Breeden and on to flanker David Sniffen (who had come on in replacement for Lawson Omer). Sniffen flung the ball wide causing it to bounce in front of fullback Alex Dent, who scooped it up and cut hard inside of the defending Lancer and ran in untouched the twenty meters between there and the try line. Vaught’s kick was no good, just barely wide right. 0-52.
Moments later, the Tigers would score on a purely opportunistic play created by the smallest of mistakes. Vaught took the kick restart and ran back up to the Tiger 22m but had the ball slapped out of his hands as he went to pass. Longwood recovered the ball and moved toward the wide side of the field where their forwards had come up from the kick restart. The Lancers would retain possession for a number of phases but could not gain any territory, even though they were eventually awarded a scrum on the other side of the field when the referee stopped the match for a moment to see about a Tiger player who was down and injured. Longwood won their scrum and got a penalty two phases later when a Tiger player entered the Lancer ruck illegally. Longwood took the tap kick and attacked, rather than running through pods, and made some ground, which was lost over the next two phases as the Tiger defense kept making tackles behind the gain line. One more surge forward by Longwood got the ball inside the Tiger 22m, but the pass out of that ruck was knocked on and fielded by Chris De Salvo at the 22m line. He spun out of the first tackle and was off and running, only a couple of Lancers able to threaten him, he cut inside his pursuers at the 10m and got nearly to the 22m line before being tackled and looking to find Mason Sale on a support run. The try was in their hands, but the referee ruled the pass forward and called it back for a Longwood scrum. Longwood won their scrum, but as their scrum-half bent down to pass the ball out, the Lancer 8man kicked it backward and out of his hands. Brennan Vaught, Tiger scrum-half, ever-alert, snatched it up cut outside the defending wing and then back inside the Longwood fly-half on his twenty-three meter run. His own kick was good. 0-59.
The Tigers knocked the kick restart on and gave Longwood a scrum fifteen meters out from the Hampden-Sydney goal line. Longwood had its most threatening possessions since the first half over the next several minutes, aided ably by several Tiger mistakes. Over the stretch, Tiger defenders committed three penalties, continually giving life to the Lancer attack. Most notable, however, was the loss of the Longwood scrum-half when he was inadvertently kicked in the head while diving for a loose ball. Without any additional players for a substitution, this injury doubly hurt Longwood’s ability to put together attacking opportunities. After the injury time out, Longwood took the tap kick and offloaded to a forward who charged into the try zone but was unable to ground the ball. The referee called the try held up and gave a 5m scrum to Longwood. The Lancers won their scrum and passed to their fly-half, who was wrapped up by Tiger fly-half Gray Breeden. Though the Lancer fly-half managed to get the ball to their outside center, he, too, was immediately wrapped up by two Tiger defenders. Playing a man down and without the fresh legs that substitutes had given the Tigers, Longwood’s rucks were getting less and less organized. Eventually the ball was thrown wildly out of the back and sailed over the head of the intended target. Flanker David Sniffen ran forward and tackled the player who had just fielded the errant pass, causing the ball to pop loose. Gray Breeden swept it up and got to his feet, avoiding one defender before getting his balance and passing to wing Mason Sale who was already running on at full speed. Sale took the ball about twenty-five meters from the Tiger line and outran all Lancer defenders on a seventy-five-meter sprint into the try zone and under the uprights for his third try of the day and fifth of the season. Vaught’s kick was good. 0-66.
At this point, with Longwood playing a man-down due to injury and a lack of substitutes, on-field captain Gray Breeden suggested to the Longwood captain that the Tigers voluntarily play man-down, as well. The captains agreed and the remainder of the match was played at even-strength until a few minutes later when the Longwood outside center was sent off with a yellow card for repeated high and dangerous tackles.
The final points of the match came in the 76th minute. The last ten minutes were not particularly good or graceful rugby. Fatigue was affecting experienced players and inexperience reigned over the others on both sides. The Tigers saw another clear scoring opportunity invalidated by a forward pass. Longwood continued to commit penalties, giving the Tigers possession and new life just when the Lancer defense was starting to slow down the Tiger attack. At the ruck, Brennan Vaught picked the ball and attacked the gap right next to the ruck. The Lancer defender was slightly out of position and grabbed Vaught around the shoulders, spinning and flinging him toward the ground. This was not a malicious or vicious action; it was a very sloppy tackle born out of exhaustion, frustration, and being slightly out of position. Vaught, naturally, took the kick quickly and scampered through the Longwood defense, eventually being caught from behind at the 22m. He passed up off the ground to 8man Chris Beattie, who was running on in support and finished the try run. Breeden’s kick (Vaught having been substituted off after the try) was no good. 0-71.
The final moments of the match saw Longwood with a penalty about thirty meters from the Tiger goal line just a little to the left of mid-field. They elected to kick for points and the kicker struck well. Sadly the ball sailed a meter wide of the uprights.
It’s satisfying to see such a total victory, where nearly every phase and aspect of play comes together so completely. It was not that Longwood was a bad team, it was, rather, that the Tigers played near the top of their game. No, it wasn’t a flawless match; there were knock-ons, forward passes, and penalties at the ruck. But the efficient number of those errors is probably not zero. Conventional wisdom says if the ball is not passed forward sometimes, support runners are too far behind or not running hard enough. If there is never an offside at the ruck, the defense is probably too far back on their heels. And so on. What we saw on the pitch was this team playing all-out and having a great time doing it.
The Tiger forwards deserve special attention, as their performance was astonishing. They won two of Longwood’s three lineouts, taking the first one and causing the second to be thrown not-straight. On their own lineout, they won five of six, only giving one away for a short throw not quite five meters. By the Tigers’ third lineout, Longwood had ceased even trying to compete in the air, instead choosing not to jump and trying to crash through the line. The Tiger pack won all seven of their own scrums as well as three of Longwood’s thirteen. When they didn’t clearly win the scrum, they were pushing against the Lancers and providing pressure or a wheel, frustrating or upsetting Longwood’s ability to use the ball out of set pieces. Even better, perhaps, than their set piece play was how they performed in the loose. Longwood turned the ball over but generally in the open, not at the ruck. Forward support was the best of the year so far. On defense, our forwards were stalwart, shutting down any hope of inside runs by an organized Lancer pack. Multiple times the Tiger forwards were backed up on their goal line, but they gave no ground.
As I said of our match last fall against Lynchburg, it’s hard to coach and manage a match as lopsided as this one turned out to be. There is neither honor nor glory in an unsportsmanlike running up of the score. On the other hand, it is a particularly condescending form of mockery to consciously avoid scoring points or to switch to a game plan that clearly doesn’t work. Rugby is a game of support and coordination; if a team has it, it is hard to take it away artificially. I am most proud of how our players behaved; our players now were as gracious in victory as we were in defeat all those years. There was no gloating. There was no excessive celebration. When they did, they celebrated positively the good things they had done, not negatively the things they had done *to Longwood*. I see little-to-no bad blood between our sides, and I look forward to many, many more matches between us. I hope both of our teams continue to improve this season and those to come.
The Tigers finish their regular season next weekend, October 27, at Radford. Game time is set for 1pm.