Middlebury secures their first win in Division I beating Southern Connecticut by 30 points to 7 at home. The muddy field slowed down the pace of the game but some smart tactical kicking by Brian Sirkia ’12.5 gave Middlebury superior field positioning and though it took some camping in the red zone, thanks to Southern’s hard-nosed defense, the Blue managed to breakthrough on multiple occasions.
Tries for Sirkia, wingers Zach Withers ’11.5 and Ken “ICU” Mugo ’12, and eigthman Ross Berriman ’12. Sirkia slots home two penalties and two conversions. Sloppy defense by Middlebury late in the game lets Southern score on a full-field-break to record their first points in this new league. Withers lays out the “Sam Harrison Hit of the Day” following up Geoff Kalan’s beaster last weekend. Hard to pick a man of the match this week as multiple players stepped up to the task in big ways: Mugo is tireless in his pursuit of the ball on every single kick; Berriman creates turnover after turnover especially late in the game as both teams tire; inside center Jack Maher ’12 is so vastly improved from last week and is a force on defense. All that said Sirkia creates nearly all of Middlebury’s attack (sometimes out of very little) and his tackling at 10 is flawless so the writer gives the backs captain the nod. Full report below.
Both teams arrive for the game having suffered losses last weekend in their season openers: Middlebury narrowly losing in the final 3 minutes to UMass and Southern being soundly dispatched by Northeastern 50 – 0. Both teams have something to prove, firstly to themselves and to the rest of the East Coast Rugby Conference.
The rain-filled week has left the field in a soggy state but the rain holds off for the day keeping conditions somewhat manageable. Kick-off is delayed 45 minutes as the teams anxiously await the arrival of the ref who had been reffing in Canada that morning and had difficulty getting to the pitch. Finally proceedings get underway to the cheer of the Middlebury faithful still at the field in support.
Southern struggles to maintain their feet at the breakdown throughout the game giving Middlebury numerous penalties. The first coming in the 3rd minute which Sirkia aptly sends through the uprights to open the scoring. 3 – 0 Middlebury, 3 mins in.
The big front row of Southern tries to attack Middlebury around the fringes of the ruck but the tackling of the boys in blue is a significant step up from the previous week. Prop Mike “Traps” Wysota ’14 puts in a rock-hard performance on defense to stop the Southern advance. Last week Traps did a solid job at hooker in his first cap for The MCRC and he does a great job of transitioning to prop this week as forwards coach Ben “Flow” Wells shuffles his front-row deck. With the true freshman Laird Silsby ’15 out this weekend Wells is forced to make more changes to the pack from the UMass game: Berriman slides from open-side flanker to eighthman, captain Rowan Kelner flips to the open side and his American School in London highschool teammate Devin Risinger ’14 comes in at blindside flank, getting his first start for Middlebury. Berriman and Risinger are phenomenal ball-mongers and their contest at the breakdown causes Southern no end of trouble and gets Midd out of several sticky situations.
On defense Southern blitzes the Middlebury backs leaving Sirkia with little time to get the rest of his line involved so he goes it alone dancing around defenders with surprising ease considering the wet ground. His choice of running lines is exemplary and leaves the Southern cover defenders dead in the water. However the angled run takes him away from the posts making his own conversion harder. 8 – 0 Middlebury, 13 minutes.
Just when it looks like the floodgates could be opening Southern’s defense becomes a thorn in the Middlebury side keeping the boys in blue out for almost 20 minutes. Middlebury sets up shop in the Southern 22 but they start making mistakes at the breakdown, knock-on after knock-on, turnover city. Finally winger Withers tires of the nonsense and with a turn of pace that would make the roadrunner do a double-take flies past his opposite number and touches down. Zach has a great game all round – having worked on his tackling technique through the week he throws in some monstrous hits and plays a wonderful 80 minutes of rugby. Sirkia converts to make it 15 – 0, 32 minutes in.
Half-time and Middlebury is clearly in control but all their possession seems like it should have resulted in more than 15 points.
5 minutes into the new half Southerns’ lack of discipline at the ruck costs them again as Sirkia slots home another penalty kick to make it 18 – 0.
The second half almost inevitably offers more space in any rugby game and Middlebury begins to take advantage to move the ball. Some sparks of brilliance rear their fantastic heads, few more impressive than outside center Adam Schreiber’s breakaway run. The tall Colorado native just needed a little space to get his long legs moving and once he did his in and out step had Allen Iverson effects on the defense. Great passage of play that saw the ball go through multiple hands but the final pass was just a touch too short for the intended receiver–still a a wonderful glimpse at what’s to come. Solid afternoon for the sophomore.
With the running game taking more shape, in spite of the field, fullback Geoff “King” Kalan ’12 is able to unleash Mugo who blows by two defenders, on their outside, and runs the ball under the posts – a highly professional move by the Kenyan, ensuring the 7 points for his efforts and the appreciation of kicker Sirkia. 25 – 0 Middlebury, 60 mins in.
Though the win is not in jeopardy the bonus point for scoring 4 tries is. Just one shy with 6 minutes left but then what looks to be another strong Middlebury attack quickly degenerates. Sirkia chips it over the top into the Southern 22. The Southern backs handle well and spread the ball to the opposite sideline and their winger is off to the races thanks to some poor tackling for Middlebury at the get-go. Consolation try Southern 25 – 7, 74 minutes.
With hopes of the bonus quickly fading Middlebury limits their substitutions only bringing on Michael “Goose” Graham ’15 for 2nd row Nick Derrico ’14. This is Goose’s first cap for The MCRC and his physical play is quickly felt as he makes back to back hits from the kick-off. The introduction of some fresh legs and energy is exactly what the doctor ordered to get Middlebury the bonus. Berriman hanging out with the wingers (again) and he takes full advantage to run in the final try of the game. 30 – 7 Middlebury.
Southern is unable to provide a 2nd XV so Middlebury runs an internal 10-a-side scrimmage between their non-1st team players.
Line-up: Wysotta, Mariano, Hoffmann, N. Kelner, Derrico (Graham 76), Risinger, R. Kelner (c), Berriman, Song, Sirkia (c), Mugo, Maher, Schreiber, Withers, Kalan
- Tries: Sirkia ’12.5, Withers ’11.5, Mugo ’12, Berriman ’12,
- Conversions: Sirkia – 2 for 4
- Penalties: Sirkia – 2 for 4
- 1st cap (competitive): Graham ’14