NEW YORK — The men’s rugby team fell just two wins short at Wildcard Weekend of earning a berth in the national championships.
The Bulldogs succumbed to Harvard, 10–6, in a close game during the second matchup of the tournament at Columbia University’s Baker Field on Saturday. Columbia lost to Brown, 42–17, in the first match. If the Elis won, the team would have competed against the Bears on Sunday for one of the 16 slots in the USA Rugby Division I playoffs.
“We had a couple of opportunities that we squandered,” head coach Jan Pikul said, “But the overall effort was excellent.”
In the Wildcard tournament, four Ivy League teams — Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Brown — competed in single elimination rounds to qualify for the Division I Championships. Dartmouth, after coasting through all seven of its Ivy League opponents undefeated, accepted a bid to play in the newly-formed USA Rugby Premier League, and will not be competing in the Division I tournament because of its Premier status.
The Yale team played without an injured captain and lock Tim Shriver ’11, who said he hopes to be off his crutches by December. In Shriver’s place, team president and fullback Ryan Vandersloot ’11 acted as captain on the field. Since Vandersloot, also the team’s main kicker, played with a bad ankle, wing Mac Hull ’13 took over his kicking duties.
Both teams played strong defense and no points were scored until there were only about 15 minutes left to go in the first half of the game. Yale scored the first points of the match with a penalty kick by Hull that allowed Yale to take a 3–0 lead.
Shortly after Hull’s kick, the referee gave Yale a yellow card that sent flanker Sam Teicher ’12 temporarily off the field, putting Yale at 14 players against Harvard’s 15. Teicher said he tackled a Harvard player inside the 10-meter line, which was considered a professional foul as it prevented the Crimson from scoring.
“I didn’t hear the whistle and went for the ball because if I didn’t the guy I tackled was definitely going to score,” Teicher said.
With only a few minutes left remaining in the half, Harvard pushed Yale across the field and scored its first try, the rugby equivalent of a touchdown. Harvard missed the conversion kick, gaining only five points, but Harvard still gained the lead, 5–3, heading into halftime.
Yale scored three minutes into the second half of the game with another penalty kick from Hull. While Yale led 6–5 for the majority of the second half, Harvard scored a try with less than 12 minutes left in the game.
“The last try was really the turning point of the game,” Pikul said. “It really could have gone either way.”
In the last three minutes, Gray Grissom ’13 seized the ball and dashed over 45 meters across the green before he got tackled. Yale was pushing Harvard across the field, but time ran out and the Crimson came away with the victory.
“We fought hard.” Brandon Sharp ’11 said. “We went out fighting.”
The Bulldogs were hurt due in part to three injuries sustained during the game.
Throughout the game, Vandersloot said the Yale team had strong defense with solid play from the backs. Sharp said that while the scrums played well as Yale was able to push Harvard back to get the ball, they were still not “top-notch.”
Having played on the team since freshman year, Sharp, a senior, said he wished the game turned out differently. If Yale had won the match against Harvard and their following match against Brown, it would have been the first time in Yale rugby history that the team made it to the national championships.
“The guys played with a lot of heart,” Pikul said. “They were just unlucky.”
Correction: November 10, 2010
An earlier version incorrectly stated that Harvard made its first try near the end of the game when, in fact, the score occurred near the end of the first half.