Rugby Downs UCONN in Hard Fought Opening Game

By Colin Mackintosh

Middlebury Rugby began their season with a hard-fought win against UConn on Saturday afternoon. The MCRC got off to a fast start and looked poised for a comfortable win against UConn. Adam Markun ’17 started the scoring with a burst of speed down the sideline, leaving everyone far behind. Teddy Benge ’16 then broke a run on the opposite sideline before being tackled a meter from the try zone. After several attempts from the goal line, Alex Epstein ’17.5 broke through the UConn defense to give Midd a 12-0 lead with Jake Feury ’16.5 making one conversion.

UConn immediately responded, however. On the ensuing kickoff, UConn was awarded a scrum after a Middlebury penalty and quickly found the try-zone to cut the deficit to five. Middlebury fought back and was rewarded when Feury delivered a punishing stiff arm en route to scoring a try under the posts. After Feury’s conversion Middlebury led 19-7, but the rest of the first half saw UConn take advantage of a number of Middlebury mistakes with solid play from the UConn backs.

With about 15 minutes left in the first half, UConn’s outside center broke through the Middlebury defense to score a try under the posts. Within the next few minutes, UConn pinned Middlebury deep in its own half of the field. Middlebury got the ball out to its backs, but UConn intercepted a pass and easily took the ball into the try-zone, tying the game at 19. UConn maintained possession for much of the remainder of the first half and with seconds left, they converted a long kick to take a 22-19 lead into halftime.

Coming out of the half, UConn continued their formidable play and scored another try to go up 29-19, but Middlebury scrum-half Jackson Bock ’18 made sure that Middlebury would respond. Following a UConn penalty, Bock swiftly swung the ball out wide to Benge, who sprinted down the sideline for a score that cut the deficit to 29-26.
Shortly after Benge’s try, the Middlebury forward pack, which was dominant throughout the game, won another five-meter scrum and Griffin Jones ’16 dove into the try zone to give Middlebury a lead that they would not relinquish. Griffin’s score put Midd up 33-32. Sam Schwarz ’16 and Markun scored the final two tries for Middlebury to put the final score at 47-39.

Overall, this game showcased the great potential of the MCRC this year. The forwards were dominant in the scrum, and the backs showed their speed and their ability to move the ball out wide to the wings. Nevertheless, some summer rust and mental mistakes hurt Middlebury throughout the game, and allowed UConn to almost complete the upset.
Co-Captain Kyle Dickey ’17 said of the game, “We showed that we have the potential to have a lot of success in the league, but also that we have to shore up our defense and be more consistent all around. It’s great that we came away with a win and we will only get better as a team.”

The MCRC will host New England College next Saturday, and looks to pick up their second win in this young season.

The MCRC is excited for the season, and hopes to continue competing at the D-I level – the team became a part of USA Rugby’s newly-founded D-I East Coast Rugby Conference in 2011. This weekend’s match with New England College, and an upcoming tilt with Fairfield, will be interesting given that both opponents are new to the ECRC.

MCRC has slowly built its way into a perennial contender and will try to build on past successes in 2015-16.