Men’s rugby defends national 7s title in Philadelphia
By Brett Drucker, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Saturday, June 9, 2012
The Dartmouth men’s rugby team successfully defended its title at the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship last weekend in Philadelphia in front of a nationally televised audience.
The Big Green controlled most of the action at PPL Park and cruised through the group stage on day one, beating the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland handily before closing the opening portion of the competition with a 28-0 shutout of the University of Florida. In those first three matches, Dartmouth tallied a plus-78 point differential and led all teams by surrendering just 12 points over that stretch.
“We have a completely different team this year, and we were able to analyze last year’s game to look at what we could improve on,” co-captain Will Lehmann ’12 said. “Last year we were definitely underdogs, but this year we came in as defending champions with a bit of a target on our back.”
After winning group B, the Big Green advanced to the quarterfinals to face the University of Wisconsin. Kevin Clark ’14 scored a pair of first-half tries as Dartmouth jumped out to a 35-0 lead. The Big Green held on to advance with a 35-5 victory.
The semifinals brought arguably Dartmouth’s toughest opponent as the Big Green faced off against the University of California. Cal, a perennial powerhouse in men’s rugby, has won 19 of the last 21 15s titles and defeated Dartmouth in the final of the inaugural 7s tournament two years ago. The Golden Bears put Dartmouth in its only hole of the tournament, jumping out to a 12-7 lead at halftime. After a hard-fought second half, the Big Green cut the deficit, which had grown to 12 points, down to five before Clark found the goal line with 43 seconds remaining to tie the game. Co-captain Derek Fish ’12 hit the conversion to give Dartmouth a 21-19 victory and a return trip to the final.
The team’s mindset going into the Cal game was to keep possession and work on defense, Clark Judge ’12 said.
“We were a bit more serious before the Cal game as they had crushed us two years ago on NBC,” Judge said. “We made some mistakes early that cost us points and led to Cal scoring a couple of times, but once we settled down and started making better decisions with the ball, we retook the lead with just our normal offensive patterns.”
The Big Green did not let itself be intimidated by Cal’s reputation, according to Fish.
“Cal is a great team, usually the gold standard in American rugby,” he said in an email to The Dartmouth. “We knew the game would be close and everyone did a great job getting focused, ignoring the name on the front of the Cal jersey and just playing our game. Once we began to play confidently, erasing the second-half deficit took care of itself.”
After the triumphant come-from-behind victory, the Big Green took the field under three hours later to meet the University of Arizona for the title. Dartmouth jumped out to a quick start, building a 19-5 lead at the half. From there, Dartmouth continued to press, and a gritty try from Lehmann provided the final points of the tournament, as the Big Green won, 24-5. Dartmouth was able to hold on to the match in the second half despite being down a man for two of the last three minutes.
The Big Green allowed the fewest points of any team in the tournament. Keeping possession was a large focus of the game, Judge said.
“Our defense is very solid even under pressure, and we rarely miss tackles,” Judge said. “Our ability to turn the ball over on defense is one of our best characteristics. We had the ball on offense a lot and we stressed keeping possession all weekend long.”
Fish led the tournament with 60 points, scoring four tries and adding a tournament-high 20 conversions. Clark and Madison Hughes ’15 tied for sixth in the tournament with 30 points each. Hughes was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts and was also named to RugbyMag.com’s All-Tournament Team along with Fish and Nate Brakeley ’12.
The USA 7s CRC final game marks the last time rugby head coach Alexander Magleby ’00 will lead the team. In March, Magleby was named the head coach of USA Rugby’s national 7s team, or the Eagle 7s.
The team will now break for Summer term before returning in August to prepare for the fall 15s season.