Rugby teams fall to the Crimson

Rain, hail and a few flakes of snow slowed this weekend’s Ivy League Rugby Championships in the shadow of the Yale Bowl. But the obstacle that slowed the Bulldogs most was an equally familiar one: Harvard.

Hosting the Ancient Eight in a wet New Haven, both the men’s and women’s hopes at a league title fell at the hands of the Crimson. The men were defeated in the second round and settled for fourth place, while the women lost in the finals, taking second.

After inclement weather delayed Saturday afternoon’s games until early Sunday morning, both teams took the field with a championship within reach.

The men had won on Saturday morning against Brown 17-5 on a field that looked more like chocolate pudding than grass. Conditions forced dropped balls and messy playmaking, but after an early try by forward Sherman Wang ’07 the Bulldogs never looked back. South African Sean Walbridge ’08 notched a second score before the half to make the score 12-0, but a back injury on the play left him on the sidelines for the rest of the weekend. A try by each team late in the game made no impact on the outcome.

Sunday morning, under well-deserved sunshine, the Elis found themselves struggling to capitalize on chance after chance against Harvard. Several times the Bulldogs fought their way to within scoring range but failed to touch the ball down for five points. Instead, the Crimson pounced and came away with a 27-12 win.

“The whole first half was pretty much neck and neck,” said Garan Geist ’06, the team’s president and scrum half. “We had a lot of scoring chances but just couldn’t punch it in. That was a disappointing loss because we executed our plan but just couldn’t finish.”

The team put the disappointment aside and faced Princeton for third place. Despite trailing 5-0 at the half, the Elis knotted the score at 12-12 with several minutes remaining after Thomas Kidd ’08 knocked the ball through the uprights for two extra points. Overtime loomed.

Rugby overtime consists of two equally-timed halves. In the first, the Tigers scored the only points on a three-point penalty kick. Kidd answered in the second session with three of his own. But as time expired, the teams were still stalemated. Each chose a player to kick alternating penalty kicks, beginning at 22 meters and moving out with each successive make.

“We chose Thomas Kidd again, a rookie this spring who played really well all weekend,” Geist said.

But on his fourth attempt, Kidd missed right and the Tigers took the third place trophy. He and his teammates were left wondering what could have been. Geist said the Bulldogs’ team was superior, but like Sunday morning’s affair they failed to secure points when they had the chance. Instead, Princeton staved off repeated attacks and hung on long enough to win.

In a fashion similar to that of the men, the women sloshed their way through an ugly first-round victory against Dartmouth. Despite dropped balls and a handful of missed opportunities, the Elis secured a gritty win, 10-5. Yale head coach John Broker muttered under his breath about the mistakes as the team headed to the safety of a white tent to discuss the win and their next opponent, No. 13 Princeton.

The Tigers entered the weekend as the top seed and favorite. But tight defense and a pair of tries from wing Jackie Madison ’09 lifted the Bulldogs to an upset victory 17-0.

“I think we did a good job on defense and we were aggressive on offense,” Madison said. “We weren’t afraid to be creative.”

Injuries played an undeniably prominent role in Sunday’s proceedings. The Tigers were rumored to be missing seven of their backs, and the Elis enlisted several rookies in prominent roles.

Flanker Simone Berkower ’09, who watched from the sideline with a boot on her injured ankle, said the limited lineup forced some changes in strategy.

“Injuries played a significant role because people had to play positions they normally don’t play,” she said. “We had to have two rookies start. But they obviously did a good job picking up the slack because we did so well in the tournament.”

Those injuries caught up to the women by Sunday afternoon’s showdown with No. 16 Radcliffe, whom the Bulldogs beat in November 32-7. Fatigued and stretched thin from top to bottom, the Elis could not keep up with the Crimson.

A try within the game’s first three minutes served as a sign of things to come. The Crimson then broke a halftime tie with another quick score early in the second and never looked back, finally winning 26-12.

Co-captain and scrum half Amanda Webb ’06 said the loss hurt, especially given the Harvard-Yale rivalry. But the rugby community is different than most sports.

“Harvard and Yale players play with and against each other on select sides and over the summer, and we all recognize that we are a part of the larger Northeast Rugby community,” Webb said. “As deep as the rivalry runs, we will be supporting Radcliffe as they travel to the National Sweet Sixteens in two weeks.”

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