By Tony Brown
POUGHKEEPSIE - Under sunny skies and with ideal conditions for running rugby the two best teams in the Tri-State Conference went head-to-head in the Championship game. The Marist College men finished the regular season 7-1, as did the Vassar College men, and there was a trip to the USA Rugby National Championship at stake for the winner. Both teams left it all out on the field in front of a big crowd of over 350 spectators and at the end there was only a single score between them.
This was a real battle from start to finish and Marist showed real strength at the scrum and when rucking in the loose. Vassar had too many unforced errors in the early portions of the game and either dropped, knocked-on, or turned over the ball several times. It had two effects one being the obvious, loss of possession, and two, they were unable to get any pattern established. It was following a high tackle that Marist kicked to touch. They won the ensuing lineout and then moved the ball to their backs who sliced through the middle to open the scoring.
It was not the start the home side was looking for but Vassar did manage to work their way upfield and Nick Graham kicked a penalty that made the score 7-3 in favor of Marist. But moments later Marist slotted a penalty and the score was 10-3.
Marist began to kick the ball to the wings and although Graham dealt with them well when he was caught the aggressive rucking of the Marist pack secured some possession. But for much of the first half this game was played between the 22 meter lines. The problem for Vassar was how to secure a fast ruck ball and as with a couple of weeks ago they struggled in this area. The Vassar cause was not helped when they lost Andrew Jdaydani to the sin bin on what seemed a harsh call and when Vassar was down to 14 men they conceded a try and fell behind 15-3. Marist had a player sin-binned right on the stroke of halftime but Graham missed the penalty attempt.
So the second 40 minutes commenced and the Marist kicking game persisted but a good couple of runs from the Vassar team with Alex Voynow prominent allowed Vassar to gain field position. Turnovers at rucks hurt the attack, though, and Marist cleared their line. Down by two scores, Vassar’s play was much more urgent. The higher tempo did pay dividends eventually, but the inexperience of the Vassar team showed at times.
The Vassar lineout went well and Tom Rafferty soared and this provided a good platform for attack. A series of penalties after good ball retention led to a vital Vassar score as Karl Foley dived over for a try. Graham kicked the conversion and it was game on at 10-15 and about 20 minutes or so to play.
The second half did have a long stoppage when one of the Marist players injured his back and had to be taken to the hospital and Vassar had to replace Zach Kent when he took a heavy knock. The stoppage did not help Vassar as it allowed Marist to rest and regroup. Credit to the Marist lads is due for they tackled well all game and showed real intensity throughout.
As is so often the case it is the little details that often come back to haunt you. Vassar took a 22 meter drop kick having weathered a Marist attack but knocked on the ball giving them good field position. It was only a number of small number of phases later that Marist scored to open up a 22-10 gap.
Vassar continued to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents in an effort to earn the win. Jehan Shams came on and injected some pace. Foley was darting around the rucks and urging his forwards to win ball and Ian Ruginski made a huge try saving tackle. There was effort aplenty from all but time was running out. Some little details hurt again as there was some delay when taking tap penalties, a couple of rucks were lost right on the Marist line, and a scrum was lost against the head. Vassar did score again with six minutes left in the game when Tom Rafferty dived in from close range but Vassar was unable to clinch the victory so Marist advance in the spring.
It was a hard loss to take but the team gave 100% on the field and there was no lack of effort. All the players are extremely grateful for the wonderful support they got from the Vassar faculty, students, friends, and family. Also a big thank you is owed to Athletic Trainer Josh Chason for all his work this fall with all the rugby games.
The next rugby game will see Vassar playing in Madrid, Spain.