Both Middlebury’s 1st XV and 2nd XV continue their unbeatens run with a 41 – 0 and 26 – 21 respective wins over University of Rhode Island on a cold rainy day. Middlebury really put on a show for their alumni who were up for the annual alumni weekend (see report on the alumni game in next post). The games are played on the Football turf due to heavy rain over the past few days. In the 1st team game Middlebury continues to dominate the scrums but in the first half the URI forwards hold up better than any other team Middlebury has played this year. By the second half URI’s fitness is waning and the Blue pack goes into full gear stealing scrum after scrum and completely controlling their own ball allowing Brian Sirkia ’12.5 and his backs to carve up the URI defense.
Scrum-half Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12 scores two tries in the first half and winger Ben “Sturgees” Stasiuk ’13.5 grabs two in the second half; Sirkia, Tommy Campanella ’12 and Alan “The Natural” Stafford ’13.5 pick up a try each. Brian goes 3 for 7 on conversions, striking the post an almost unbelievable 3 times. He makes no penalty kick attempts, largely because Middlebury is awarded very few penalties in the game.
Full match report below:
With lock Nat “Sheed” Kelner ’12 being rested Graeme “Spanish” Daubert ’12.5 is able to make his first start for the A side and would make Sheed proud with his work rate and execution in the scrums, lineouts and open play around the breakdown. Spanish makes several great pick’n’go’s off the base of the ruck constantly breaking the gain line and maintaining possession. Middlebury also rests winger Kennedy Mugo ’12 and fullback Geoff Kalan ’12.5 allowing them to start utility player Sturgees and Alan Stafford, who both pick up tries.
The first fifteen minutes are back and forth with either team looking like they can break the deadlock. URI has the first real chance to score with a penalty kick from a decent angle and distance. This would have been the first time Middlebury had been behind in a game this season but the URI kicker shanks it. Middlebury turns it around and quickly makes URI regret their missed opportunity scoring the opening try through 9 man Berriman who punches it home after a series of pick and drives from a few meters out. Sirkia strikes the upright on the conversion attempt 5 – 0 Middlebury.
Berriman is really finding a home at the scrum-half position balancing his naturally more aggressive-flanker-contact-loving tendencies (a la Byron Kelleher of the late 90′s All Blacks) with a more finessed and learned move-the-ball style. His ability to switch it up keeps defenders guessing and his natural instincts pay off again as he punches his second try of the day home just 7 minutes later. Sirkia hits the conversion, 12 – 0 Middlebury.
URI keeps Middlebury under pressure with some smart play off of penalties: good kicking for touch and a quick tap here and there as The MCRC is pinged repeatedly in the first half. The same misdemeanors around the ruck had halted Middlebury’s flow against St. Mike’s under the same ref but this week they adjust better and handle their frustrations in a smarter, more professional manner, keeping their focus on the task at hand: RUGBY not debating. Much of URI’s attacking play comes through their inside center who pulls off one unforgettable chip and chase, tackle, back onto his feet, superman dive over a fallen player to regain possession–great athleticism on his part. Sam Harrison in the centers is however up to the task of stopping the center’s advances and he has a much quieter afternoon beyond that then it seems he has had against other sides this season.
The Middlebury backline struggles to find their rhythm in the first half despite their possession advantage. The forwards dominate the set plays and as much as this writer raves about the forwards scrumming I must also give praise to their lineouts, which were a weak point last year and early this year. Hooker Danny “DJ” Powers ’11.5 has worked hard on his throwing and they may need to change is name to Doctor Powers if he becomes any more clinical in his execution. The range of plays the Midd pack runs off the lineouts shows a great field awareness and sets up Sirkia and co. beautifully but the backs are not able to get it round and through their opposition as they have done in other weeks as the ball gets caught up at the first receivers. When the backs do get it going it’s a thing of beauty but the consistency is just not there in the first half. Sirkia is still able to get in on the try scoring action himself picking the gap. He converts his own try in the 36th minute of the half. 19 – 0 Middlebury.
The Blue absorbs some late URI pressure and go into the half with a decent lead but not enough to feel at ease.
Almost without fail this season Middlebury has gone into the half leading by a double digit somewhat comfortable margin and has then come out a little flat in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Their uncanny ability to score even when they are flat has helped them keep their opposition under wraps while they regroup mentally. Once this 10 minute daze has dissipated they run teams into the ground in the final 30. This week Middlebury starts the second half with an unstoppable focus and drive, every single player on the team raises their game up several notches and the backs and forwards click like a freshly wound clock. They string phases together like a puppeteer in his workshop and their aggressive defense keeps them attacking even when they do not have the ball. 4 minutes into the half Tommy Campanella gets his try but Sirkia is unable to convert. 24 – 0 Middlebury.
The biggest adjustment to The MCRC play is between Sirkia and inside center Sam Harrison ’11. The two find their chemistry in this second half launching the backline and putting the URI defense on the backfoot. Sirkia once again calls on his change of speed to slice up the URI defense and then gets off the pop to Harrison or one of his supporting forwards and from there its just phase after glorious Middlebury phase. With his inside men sparked to life Ben Cmejla ’11 also comes alive and uses his strength and speed to beat the gain line continually.
Fullback Alan “The Natural” Stafford also gets his timing right bursting into the line and evading tackles. Stafford seems to glide across the ground able to change direction as quickly and effortlessly as a cool breeze. 20 minutes into the half Stafford gets his try. Sirkia hits the post for the second time. 29 – 0 Middlebury.
Middlebury’s loose trio have their best combined game of rugby. Chris Marshall ’11 is a defensive monster, linking up with second row Drew Harasimowicz ’11 for the hit of the day, driving the URI player back 5 meters and regaining possession for the Blue. He leaves the game with 5 minutes left due to blood and is replaced by Luke Dauner ’13. Captain Rowan Kelner ’12 also throws up a nomination for hit of the day as he chases down URI’s dangerman #12 and lays him down. Might as well mention Harrison as we talk about the hits; his ankle level drilling rounds off the top 3 tackles of the day and the URI player who cut back inside to meet lil’ Sammy did not make that mistake again. Kelner, one of the fastest players on the Middlebury team, makes some surging breaks in the first half and hits the line at pace in the second half breaking through tackles. Special mention of blindside flanker Zach Bills ’11 who plays a full 80 minutes of relentless rugby, his work around the rucks scream man-of-the-match performance but as usual Middlebury has multiple players putting up their hands…Zach’s may be just that hard fought inch higher.
Middlebury’s counterattacking also picks up in the second half with Tommy finding holes in the advancing URI defense, which he burns through opting to use his pace over his boot. Middlebury’s final two tries, both scored by winger Stasiuk are the end results of the longest phases of rugby Middlebury has put together this season. The first seemed to go on forever and even when Middlebury went for the quick recycle they never seemed rushed, always in control, all aware of the play before it would even happen. It’s these moments that coaches dream about, the moment a team clicks and goes beyond the bits and pieces of practices, taking a unified step back to take in the full picture of the jigsaw puzzle. Stasiuk has been seen this year as a prop, a flank, an inside center and now he is on the wing. His combination of raw speed and power allow him to succeed in any position on the rugby field. One thing to dominate the 2nd XV games, which Ben has done with overwhelming ease of an act of God, another thing to step into a 1st XV game against tough opposition and still make an earth shattering impact. With the backline now moving the second half sees Stasiuk getting the ball in attacking positions and flying by and through defenders. His first try, 28 minutes into the half, shows his out and out speed around defenders, his second try, just two minutes later, highlights his strength as he cuts back in on the defense. If employed correctly this young man is worth at least one try every time he plays a half of rugby. Sirkia converts the first of Ben’s tries but hits the post for a preposterous third time on the last conversion attempt.
Shortly after that try Middlebury brings on Connor Burleigh ’10.5 for Chris Vandergrift ’11 in the front row. Final score 41 – 0 Middlebury.
Lineup: Pappa, Powers, Vandergrift (Burleigh 71), Daubert, Harasimowicz, Bills, R. Kelner (c), Marshall (Dauner 75), Berriman, Sirkia (c), Campanella, Harrison, Cmejla, Stasiuk, Stafford
- Tries – Berriman ’12 (2), Sirkia ’12.5, Campanella ’12, Stafford ’13.5, Stasiuk ’13.5 (2)
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5: 3 for 7
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5: 0 for 0
- First competitive start: Stasiuk ’13.5
- First try: Stasiuk ’13.5
Unfortunately this game had to be played with uncontested scrums has URI did not have 3 fit front row capable players for this second game. Still a great contest between two of the strongest second sides in New England. Middlebury led the whole way with two quick converted tries in the first half, the Middlebury backline moving the ball wide with ease. URI scored a try early in the second half to make it 14 – 7 but Middlebury doubled up in response (one converted) to make it 26 – 7. Having introduced their 1st team inside center into the B game URI were more dangerous as he displayed his speed and creativity. URI scores two tries in the final minutes but Middlebury holds on for the win. 26 – 21.
Spotted At the Game: Bob Claggett (Middlebury Dean of Admissions), Mike McKenna (former VP of Communications for Middlebury and rugby club adviser), John “Duke” Wellington ’83, Daniel Kagan ’83, Brian Napack ’83, Phil Huffman ’84, Jim Robinson ’84, Jamie Donovan ’94, Andy Mitchell ’96, Pete Stevens ’96, Walter Swanson ’96, David McDermott ’97, Tommy Heitkamp 06.5, Charlie “Chaz” Wirene ’07, Craig “Sparta” Wilson ’07.5, Sahir Iqbal ’08, Luke “Moose” Yoquinto ’08, Connor Keeshan ’08.5, Max Levine ’09, Nick Fager ’09, Sam “Stormey” Tormey ’09, Dan Chow ’09, Chris Mutty ’09.5, Blake Hinckley ’10, Chris Goodrich ’10