From Rugby Today By Evan Lappen | 05.22 & 23.16

WILMINGTON MATCH REPORT

For the Village Lions, they starved Wilmington of possession and turned errors and penalties into points. The set piece and defense was key as the Lions held an 11-0 lead at halftime behind two penalties by Pak Hang Chan and a try by Matt Mullen. Another PK by Chan in the second half and a try by Julian Watts lifted the lead to 21-0 before Wilmington’s David Wolf finally got his team on the board in the 49th minute. For the remainder of the match, the Lions prevented Wilmington from making its mark and prevailed 21-5.

DETROIT TRADESMEN ONTO DII FINAL WITH OT WIN OVER THE VILLAGE LIONS

Defense ruled the day on Saturday in the USA Rugby Men’s Division II Club East National Regionals at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., but in the semifinals, the Detroit Tradesmen fought back from a nine-point deficit to score on the last play in the second half to tie it up at 31-31 against the Village Lions. The Tradesmen took over in overtime scoring four tries and advancing to the DII National Final by the score of 55-31.

In the mud, the game was back and forth with the Village Lions leading for most of the game. With eleven total tries between the clubs, the momentum swings were powerful as each team took their chance at reaching the National Final. In the end, Detroit had more in the tank and busted out in overtime for the victory.

“We definitely made too many errors in the first half as the conditions were terrible that didn’t make it very easy for either team,” Detroit head coach Jed Elley said. “We made a couple a silly, unforced errors and they scored two good tries to take them up. We stuck to our plan and we tidied it up as best we could. We stuck with patterns and discipline and eventually, it saw us through.”

Tradesmen’s eightman Conrad Bontrager put the victory more simply. “It was muddy, it was dirty, it was long. A hundred minutes is a long time to play, but it was probably the best game I’ve ever been in… We played sloppy for the first 60 minutes and we were taking a pounding and taking it to us. Our coaches kept saying play to the pattern and things started turning our way. We got the momentum and didn’t stop. We had no time left on that last time. We punch one in and that was kind of a miracle, but that’s teamwork. Unbelievable.”

The Lions took the early lead after a penalty by Hubert Chan. The Tradesmen responded after an infraction set up a scrum inside the 22. The ball was sent out to the backs where outside center Sonny Hafoka stretched for the try. Wing Adam Saad tacked on the conversion for the 7-3 lead.

The Lions used strategic kicking to put pressure on the Detroit’s back three and were very aggressive running hard lines and being physical in contact. The Tradesmen were getting scoring opportunities, but penalties and errors kept getting in the way.

Taking charge in the first half, the Lions earned their first try after a turnover caused by Tre Sinisa and flanker Mike Tagliaferro finished it off for the score. The New York squad kept up the pressure as Rasheed Perkins blocked a kick after a clear downfield where #9 Rich Giglio recovered the pill for the try. Another PK by Chan extended the lead to 16-7 to close the half.

As the second half began, the team from Motor City looked to be firing on all cylinders. First, flyhalf Kevin Kreger broke the line and offloaded to wing Colin Tucker in support for the try. Detroit regained the lead as Ben Wendt dotted the ball down as his team mauled in from a five-meter lineout. Saad added the conversion for the 19-16 advantage.

The Lions came right back after the Tradesmen misplayed a kick. Giglio picked it up offloading to Chris Mullen, who fought off a defender to slam the ball down for the try. With the momentum, the Lions were on an attack again as Chan sent a grubber into the deep try zone and Byron Henry beat three defenders to dive on the ball to lead 28-19.

Five minutes later, Detroit’s fullback Eric Jenks brought the tally to within two points with a try after some impressive phase play. A third penalty from Chan padded the lead to 31-26. With two minutes to go, potential disaster struck the Tradesmen as a yellow card sent a vital player to the bin.

With the game on the line and down a man, Detroit had one last opportunity to tie it up and, perhaps, win. Starting with a breakaway by impact reserve Ismail Bazzi on the wing, the ball was swung back across the field where John Zemmer rumbled in for the try in the corner. Saad missed the kick from the sideline to send the game into overtime at 31-31.

As the two ten minute periods of extra time began, Detroit had the momentum, but was still shorthanded. Off the opening kickoff, the Lions knocked the ball and the Tradesmen had possession after the scrum. A few phases later, big #8 Conrad Bontrager gave his team the 38-31 lead. On the try, the Lions were assessed a yellow for unsafe play.

Back at full strength and now playing with the man advantage, Detroit’s shifty Bazzi once again made a break down the sideline only to get it out to Hafoka for his second try. The Tradesmen were not done as Bontrager found some open space and offloaded to Saad for the score. At the end of the first period, the Tradesmen led 50-31.

Detroit started the second period missing a penalty and the Lions’ lost man returned to the lineup. The Tradesmen put the final nail in the coffin as reserve prop Ryan Koenig took an inside ball after a stolen scrum to burst in for the final points. The Village Lions kept battling until the final whistle, but it was the Detroit Tradesmen who prevailed 55-31 to book their trip to Colorado.

Coach Elley named the former center turned prop, Zemmer, the man of the match for tying it up at the end of regulation. “We put together five to ten phases right at the end of the game and just hang onto the ball and hope for something like that to open up. Fortunately, it opened up and John was the one to carry it over for us. We stuck to our patterns, held onto the ball, and wore them down. We sucked them in and created the space on the outside where John happened to be.”

“In overtime, it definitely dried out a bit and made it a little easier for us to move the ball,” Elley added. “It allowed our ball carriers and runners to have an impact with ball in hand, instead of being stuck and going nowhere. We had some go forward momentum, which really put them on the back foot. We ended up running away with it, but it doesn’t do the game or our opposition any justice. It was an amazing game of rugby, which they could have won.”

Commenting on the loss, Lions head coach Andrew Britt stated, “It was end game rugby. I’m incredibly proud of guys. We had a gameplan and we executed that for 78 minutes. They are a very good, big, strong side and they have that experience to close it out and full credit to them. [The key to the game was] depth. When you got that depth and the experience of coming to these tournaments, you could see that coming through in the final stages.”

This championship run has been four years in the making for Coach Elley as Tempe is the only obstacle left on the way to the DII National Title. “We are going to try to get some film and see where they like to attack and what they like to do. We will try to shut them down and be aggressive. Be positive on defense and put them under pressure, so may be they can’t play at the speed and pace they want to. We want to play the same kind of game, so I’m looking forward to a good contest and anything can happen on the day.”