Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
THE VARSITY MATCH!
What a fantastic weekend of rugby!
The Eagle women had a great run in Dubai, four Fall champions were crowned in South Carolina, Munster gave a dominant performance in Cork, and there was a shared ground thriller in Richmond!
When you become a subscriber to The Rugby Channel, this is the kind of action you get on a weekly basis. International Sevens tournaments, domestic collegiate finals, the Guinness PRO14, and the Greene King IPA Championship, either LIVE as it happens or through Video On Demand that lets you watch whenever you want.
Coming up on Thursday we’ve got a very special treat for our subscribers as we deliver both the men’s and women’s 2017 edition of The Varsity Match, LIVE from Twickenham!
The women have been playing The Varsity Match since 1988 and so far it’s Oxford that have the overall lead with 19 wins and 11 losses. The teams have split their two fixtures at Twickenham, with Cambridge winning the first ever appearance at HQ in 2015 and Oxford taking the victory in 2016. Don’t miss the opportunity to see a classic!
The Varsity Match for the men dates all the way back to 1872 and has seen over 600 participants go on to achieve international honors. This is one of the world’s great all-time rugby rivalries and very nearly the oldest!
With a total of 135 matches played, the series is remarkably close with Cambridge winning 62, Oxford 59, and 14 draws. From 2010 to 2015 Oxford won six in a row but Cambridge snapped that string with a 23 – 18 victory last year. The Varsity Match embodies everything that’s good about amateur and student rugby and it generally features outstanding play on the pitch and plenty of passion in the stands.
Definitely give both these matches a look on Thursday!
Last weekend was packed with rugby. Here’s what happened and what you should take the time to watch on VOD if you missed any of it!
Munster was in control of this contest right from the outset. They dotted down three times in the first forty and earned their bonus point right after halftime. Munster are in second position in Conference A and looking to put pressure on the leaders Glasgow. Ospreys are still struggling to figure out what’s gone wrong with their season.
The Eagles started the season exactly how they wanted to with an Alev Kelter converted try but France responded with a couple of scores of their own to take a 12 – 7 lead into halftime. The USA evened it up in the second half but gave up a late score to trail heading into the final minute.
Naya Tapper suddenly came alive at the end to run in a try to give the Eagles a chance at a draw but Nicole Heavirland’s conversion just missed and the United States lost their first match of the tourney.
The problem areas for the USA in this match were missed tackles and an inability to counter superior French aggression at the breakdown.
It wasn’t a good beginning for the United States in their second outing of the day as they missed key tackles and allowed South Africa to go the length of the field for the opening score. Just before half, Tapper turned on the jets for a try to go ahead but that lead was short-lived as an unforced knock-on led to another South African try.
Late in the second half The Eagles looked to have played themselves out of this match with some sloppy lineout play near their own goal line but were able to keep their composure and again release Tapper for the matchwinner!
The USA was never really competitive in the last match of pool play as they allowed a kick-chase try in the opening minute and went into halftime down 26 – 7. The only highlight for the Eagles was Tapper turning the corner on Michaela Blyde and outrunning the New Zealand star to the tryzone.
The second half was more of the same as New Zealand scored three more five pointers and allowed just one by the USA.
Finishing with 1 win and 2 losses was not how the Eagles envisioned their performance on Day One in Dubai but it was just good enough to get them into the Cup Quarterfinals on Day Two.
The United States came out for the quarterfinal looking like a completely different team than the one that got hammered by the defending Dubai champions the day before. Their defense was quicker and more aggressive, their decision-making crisper, and they played tough right until the last second of the match.
Plus, they got a little bit lucky with some inadvertent referee help to score a game winning try at the death and move on to the semifinals. This was a huge win for the Eagles and a great bounce back from a less than stellar first day.
The first half of this semifinal was exceptionally hard-fought but the United States dominated possession throughout and that gave Kelter the opportunity to show off her considerable talents as she sliced through the Russian defense for two tries to put the USA up 14 – 0 after seven minutes.
Russia battled back with a pair of five pointers to make it 14 – 12 but the Eagles answered with a third converted try from Heavirland to put the match out of reach. The Eagles played hard physical rugby against the Russians and it paid off with a trip to the Cup Final.
As evidenced by the scoreline this was one-way traffic throughout the match as Australia scored six unanswered tries to win the cup on the first stop of the 2017 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
Despite the lopsided final the Eagles and Coach Richie Walker have to be proud of earning the silver medal in Dubai. To come back on Day Two and beat New Zealand in the quarters on the last play of the match was outstanding, especially when followed up by quality victory over Russia in the semifinal.
Davenport made the jump to Division 1 this year and immediately showed that they belonged by dismantling Notre Dame in the final. This one was never in doubt and the only real question was how many tries would Davenport’s Danielle Ordway score. She ended up with six and might have had even more if she didn’t spend ten minutes in the bin! Outstanding rugby all around from the Panthers.
For the first sixty minutes this was anybody’s ballgame as St. Joseph’s and Mary Washington tussled to establish dominance. Leading 15 – 13, UMW eventually pulled away with three late tries to take the final in convincing fashion. Strong defense by Mary Washington in the second half proved to be the difference as they completely shut out St. Joseph’s attack.
Winona State and Vassar both had relatively simple semifinal wins over Cincinnati and Coast Guard but the final was anything but easy for either team. Vassar jumped out to a big lead, Winona fought back and went ahead, Vassar nosed back in front, Winona re-took the lead, then held on for victory in an amazing final that you absolutely must watch!
On Saturday University of Wisconsin-Whitewater cruised to a big win over North Dakota State while Virginia Military Institute had to go all the way to sudden death overtime to beat Norwich and earn a spot in the final.
On Sunday UWW and VMI battled back and forth for more than eighty minutes and the result was in doubt until the final whistle, with UWW dotting down in the seventy-ninth minute to pull ahead for the win. Yet another phenomenal match that you should definitely watch on VOD if you didn’t see it LIVE.
London Scottish and Richmond share the Athletic Ground and on Sunday they played a hugely entertaining match for home bragging rights. Richmond ended up winning on a late try but this one could have gone either way. Absolutely give it a look for two halves of hard-nosed rugby.
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