In their opening game of the fall 2010 New England Division II regular season The Middlebury Men’s Rugby team posted a convincing win over Norwich, 53 – 7. From the opening kick to the final whistle Middlebury was in control of this game as Norwich struggled to keep up with the outside pacemen of the Blue, most notably: winger Kennedy Mugo ’12, who picks up the hat-trick and prop Chris “Vandercalves” Vandergrift ’11 who snags a brace. Not a typo ladies and gentlemen, Calves has the pace and field awareness to be one of Middlebury’s leading try scorers this year despite being a prop and one of The MCRC’s physically largest players. Last week this duo connected for a try, Calves setting up Mugo. This week the pair score almost half of Middlebury’s points (25 of the 43). Perhaps Chris is putting in his bid for a position in the backline as he revels and thrives in the glory of making 40 meter breaks down the field. From opposite ends of the world (Kenya vs. Seattle) Kennedy and Chris have a penchant for leaving defenders like icebergs: at sea. Ross Berriman ’12, Danny “DJ” Powers ’11.5 and Don Song ’13, making a much anticipated and welcome return, round up the Middlebury try scorers. Few could be happier than fly half and captain Brian “Try-an” Sirkia to see Don Song ’13 back in a Middlebury jersey; not just because of the additional coverage at scrum half, the position Brian relies on, but the two are high school teammates from Canadian rugby powerhouse Shawnigan Lake School. Brian let’s his boot display his excitement going 1 for 1 on penalties and 5 for 8 on conversions.
Not all the fun was being had on the outside: new South African front-rowman Cameron “Bafana Bafana” Wilson ’14 completely dominates every scrum, wheeling, turning, popping, overwhelming (add a list of “-ing” suffixed words that infer absolute domination and you begin to get the idea). What a promising recruit this young man is set to be! His performance was reminiscent of Springbok Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira’s annihilation of Phil Vickery during the Lions 2009 tour of South Africa.
A few changes to the Middlebury line-up that started the Harvard game: Danny Powers returns to starting at hooker, Cameron Wilson slides over to loosehead prop and Mikey “Notorious B.I.G.” Pappa is on the bench; seniors Chris Marshall ’11 and Zach Bills ’11 switch positions in the loose trio (Zach to blind side, Marshall to 8); Sam Harrison ’11 replaces the injured Dusty Attw00d-Dupont ’13.5 at inside center; Mugo gets the nod to start on the wing with Dylan Whitaker ’13 on the bench.
After just 4 minutes Sirkia opens up the scoring with a penalty kick continuing his excellent points kicking work from last week’s warm up win over Harvard. Mugo makes his intentions known early, using a powerful stiff arm to blast through a Norwich defender. 7 minutes in the Kenyan gets on the scoresheet as Middlebury moves the ball wide with poetic ease, the first of many times they catch Norwich unprepared on the outside. Sirkia converts to put Middlebury up by 10 points.
Just 2 minutes later Vandergrift confirms that the floodgates are open: Middlebury is on the attack beyond the halfway line; Berriman spins the ball out to Sirkia from a ruck; Sirkia hears the call for the clear overlap strong side but sees the Norwich centers rushing up quick; in an inspired moment of tactical and executional brilliance Sirkia chips a perfect spiral cross field into the completely unguarded Norwich 22; all eyes look to see if Mugo or maybe fullback Geoff Kalan ’12.5 are advancing onto the free ball…instead, to everyone’s delight, it’s Chris Vandergrift, hanging out on the wing, who shows bolstering pace to get to the ball first and great field sense to kick the ball off the ground into the end zone where he sets for the alarm clock for try time. Sirkia converts: 17 – 0 Middlebury.
Middlebury continues to apply pressure with the forwards providing Berriman with clean ball and the backline spreading the ball wide with Kalan slotting into the line as he sees fit unleashing the Middlebury wingers (and Vandergrift!). 5 meters out the Middlebury forwards crash the ball up towards the try line and scrumhalf Berriman completes the inevitable fighting successfully for the inches to get past the try line from a breakdown. Sirkia slots this one home too: 24 – 0 Middlebury within the opening 15 minutes.
Still, it was not all one way traffic, especially over the next scoreless 20 minutes of the first half. Norwich dominates offensively around the ruck, crashing the ball up well in the first channel. Even when Middlebury players make the tackle the Norwich forwards get past the gain line with some strong well rehearsed crashes. Unfortunately for Norwich, each time they look to be gaining some ground Middlebury forces, or is gifted, the turnover. Important to note that as Norwich continues to master their forwards tight game play and potentially adds dimensions to their backline play, they will be quite a force to reckon with in New England.
For the 2nd week in a row Middlebury is forced to make an early substitution of highly impactful flanker Zach Bills. Lock Andrew “AC” Jones ’12.5 comes on and Nathaniel “Sheed” Kelner ’12 slides out to the blind side flank.
In the final 5 minutes of the half Middlebury wrangles back control and scores two tries through the men on the outside: Mugo and, of course, Vandergrift. Credit should go to forwards captain Rowan Kelner ’12 and his pack for providing Berriman with the clean ball that allows the Midd backline (featuring special guest MC Calves on the wing) to run at Norwich. Special mention of Rowan’s twin brother “Sheed” Kelner who is speedily becoming a force of monstrous proportions in the second row and back row. Nat takes a page out of his brother’s book showing a surprising turn of pace and making a half field break: important to note that Nat distinguishes his break by leaving a trail of broken tackles behind his contact ridden, powerful run.
The forwards hard work leads to Mugo getting a great pass on the oustide. He uses a dazzling, dramatically exaggerated in and out step to set the Norwich fullback at a complete standstill and cruises to the corner. Calves, with less razzmatazz than his Kenyan counterpart, receives a great pass on the outside, pins his ears back and heads for the corner. Sirkia is unable to convert these two kicks from close to the sideline. At the half Middlebury leads 34 – 0.
No changes for Middlebury at the half and Norwich definitely comes out the stronger team and are rewarded for their efforts with a converted try 7 minutes into the half. Simply solid, diligent work by Norwich pounding the ball up the field and finding the holes . 34 – 7 Middlebury.
After an unsure 10 minute opening spell Middlebury re-settle and regain the reigns of control for a third time in this game and they hold them jealously till the final whistle. The hardest hit of the day, courtesy of outside center Ben Cmejla and 9 man Berriman sets up Middlebury’s first try of the half. The two pounce on the Norwich defender who is scrambling to pick up a loose ball just 10 meters outside his goal line…he starts of 10 meters out but is blown back to just 5 meters out off of the big hit, the ball is laid up invitingly for DJ Powers to snap up and touch down. Sirkia convers, 11 minutes into the half and Middlebury is up by 41 – 7.
Luke Dauner ’13 comes on to replace captain Rowan Kelner ’12 as the half wears on and a few minutes later the moment many, including this writer, have been waiting for since last fall: the return of scrum half Don Song ’13. Following the recent triumphant return of Kennedy Mugo, The MCRC has been cautiously but anxiously hoping for another comeback kid to make the move and on September 18, 2010, Don dons the blue jersey once more–reuniting the Batman and Robin duo he forms with skipper Sirkia. Berriman moves from scrum half to his original position of open side flanker. It’s been so long since we last saw Ross as a flank so it comes as a bit of surprise to see how seamlessly he makes the transition from clear headed distributor at 9 to heat seaking missile at 7. Mikey Pappa ’11 also comes on to the front row to give Calves a break from his outside running.
Tommy Campanella ’12, who is photographed on the backpage of the recent issue of the Middlebury Campus newspaper, shows that Mugo is not the only one with a sweet in and out step cutting up and around defenders. Sirkia still riding his rediscovered speed and step also gets in on the running fun. Hats off to Kalan hitting the line hard from the back and creating space all game…he’ll feel that a couple points went begging but his decision making on when to pass or run it up himself is steadily improving.
With just over 10 minutes left in the game Mugo wraps up his hat-trick but he’s not done for the day. 5 minutes later he busts up the middle of the field beating a tackle or two, drawing several defenders and making the last minute dish off to Song on his outside with the Korean-Canadian scoring in the corner. Thanks to the work of the likes of Kalan, Vandergrift, and Sirkia, Mugo had been able to mark his return with a try–thanks to Mugo, Don is able to mark his return with 5 points. Sirkia misses the conversion on Mugo’s hat-trick but rounds up Middlebury’s scoring for the day by converting Don’s try. Final Score 53 – 7.
In the 2nd XV game Middlebury squeaks out a narrow victory for the second week in a row, 17-15; a try by outside center Ben Tabb ’12 in the final moments of the game. Lock Graeme “Spanish” Daubert ’12.5 has a cracker for the 2nd XV. One of the highlights of this game and the following 3rd XV team 30 minute scrimmage against Norwich’s freshman team is the introduction of Middlebury’s new big man: Cliff Hanich ’14. The biggest roar of the day from the sidelines comes when Cliff takes the ball up for the first time and crashes into several Norwich defenders. Exciting times for The MCRC if they can develop Cliff and several other exciting new players. The Delta Squad (Middlebury’s 3rd XV) completes the sweep with a victory–first rugby game for most of the players–great way to start!
Lineup: Wilson, Powers, Vandergrift (Pappa 60), N. Kelner (Don Song 65), Harasimowicz, Marshall, R. Kelner (c) (Dauner 60), Bills (AC Jones 20), Berriman, Sirkia, Mugo, Harrison, Cmejla, Campanella, Kalan
- Tries – Vandergrift ’11 (2), K. Mugo ’12 (3), D. Powers ’11.5, R. Berriman ’12, Song ’13
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5 5 for 8
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5 1 for 1
- 1st cap (competitive): Wilson ’14
Spotted at the Game:
- James Robinson ’84 (former captain and scrum half)