Middlebury defeated the Yale men’s rugby team 10-0 at the Northeast Tournament in Amherst, Mass. Sunday, ending the Elis’ 10-game winning streak and quelling Yale’s hopes of reaching the Div. II National Championships next spring.
Yale won the New England Rugby Football Union Championships in October and beat Middlebury twice this season, but in Sunday’s semifinal match, the Bulldogs allowed two second-half tries and failed to capitalize on offensive opportunities.
“It was disappointing to lose when we’d beaten them already,” captain Mike Atkins ’05 said. “There were things we could have done better, but it was just one of those games. We weren’t clicking into gear like in past weeks.”
To add insult to injury, Middlebury lost in the finals to Coast Guard, a team Yale bested twice this year. Yale’s 60-0 victory in a consolation match against a weak St. Bonaventure team later on Sunday proved to be little comfort.
“We were obviously the better team,” Yale head coach Jan Pikul said. “We talked all week about finishing off, but we had a couple of scoring chances and we didn’t get that done this week.”
Wing Aaron Friedman ’08 said the Bulldogs hurt themselves with errors and missed scoring chances.
“Both sides had tight defense but we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized, while we weren’t able to capitalize on theirs,” Friedman said. “It wasn’t flawless rugby.”
The Middlebury match was scheduled for Saturday and postponed because of snow. In order to fit two contests into a single day, officials shortened the match time from the customary 80 minutes to 60. Atkins said the reduced time altered the flow of the match.
“We were pressing more to come out early and score right away,” Atkins said. “We were worried that the team scoring first would have a big advantage and that turned out to be the case.”
Pikul said that the strong performance of underclassmen reserves in the match against St. Bonaventure alleviated some of the weekend’s disappointment.
“I put in players with an opportunity to shine and a lot of underclassmen played well,” Pikul said. “People were angry. They didn’t take losing to Middlebury well.”
Despite the loss to Middlebury, Yale still boasts an 11-1 record and can end the season positively with a win against Harvard in Cambridge next Saturday. The match has obvious symbolic significance, especially for graduating seniors who have never beaten Harvard, a Div. I team, but it is also an opportunity for Yale, a Div. II team, to prove its ability to play against a higher level of competition. With the victory in the New England Championships, Yale was offered the chance to advance to Div. I next year. Pikul plans to seize the opportunity.
“We want to be in the same section as Harvard,” Pikul said. “This is a huge game. If we’re really moving up, we show that we can move up this weekend.”
Atkins said the Bulldogs could hold their own against tougher competition but would need to improve its on-campus recruiting efforts and be prepared to face better teams.
“In the long run this is better for the club,” Atkins said. “Div. I has been our goal for several years. We’ve been successful at building up our program over the last three years — but we need to continue to grow in order to be competitive in Div. I.”