M. Rugby brings back hardware from R.I. tournament

The Colby men’s rugby team didn’t know what  to expect this weekend going into Beast of the East, the top rugby tournament on the East Coast. The Mules are a talented but relatively young team, and they could have been forgiven for letting their inexperience get the best of them against some of the best teams in Division III. But the team came together over five grueling matches in just two days to take second place in Portsmouth, RI, only falling to University of Maine-Orono (UMO) 21-3 in the final.

The boys played and won two group games on Saturday to qualify for the knockout round on Sunday. They got out to an early lead in their first matchup against Lasell College through Tyler Papa ’15, who picked off a sloppy pass and ran in for the first score of the day. The Mules built on that momentum by shutting down the Lasell offense through strong counter-rucking and capitalizing on forced Lasell mistakes. The game ended in a blowout 43-0 win in favor of Colby. Next was Salem State University, who would prove to be a much tougher opponent because of their size advantage. Unintimidated, the Mules played aggressive defense to grind out a 12-7 victory in a scrappy affair.

Two wins in group play booked Colby a place in Sunday’s quarterfinals where they met traditional NESCAC foe Wesleyan University. Once again, the Mules used stout defensive play to stymie the big, skilled Cardinals. Colby dominated the scrum and took their chances going forward to emerge with a 15-11 win. That set up two all-Maine semifinals, with Colby taking on University of Maine-Farmington (UMF) and UMO meeting Bates College. Colby and UMF have developed a rivalry in recent seasons, which prompted Steven Buxbaum ’15 to give one of the choice quotes of the tournament before the game: “I’ve never wanted to beat someone as badly as I want to beat UMF right now.”

The game turned out to be a close contest, featuring skilled, fast rugby. Just as Farmington looked to be on the verge of a crucial score, scrum-half Peter Cronkite ’15 recalled a somewhat obscure rule on mauling, giving the Mules possession and allowing them to clear the ball safely out of their own half. The game would ultimately be decided by a failed UMF try conversion, sending Colby to the final in an exhilarating 14-12 victory.

By Sunday evening, the young and undersized Mules had fought their way to the final of the season’s most important tournament. They came up against an Orono team notorious for their brutish brand of rugby. Just as they had done all tournament, the Mules were unfazed by their opponents’ perceived advantages and used their defense to scrap through the game. The Mules took an early lead with a penalty kick by Jack Sears ’17 but the Black Bears’ primitive tactics eventually allowed them to take control of the game. Fatigue played a factor as several key Colby players were injured late in the game, but the Mules kept playing until the final whistle. The game ended 21-3, but was much closer than the scoreline suggests.

Colby rugby certainly put themselves on the map with their outstanding showing at Beast this weekend. Ben Wardwell ’17 and Phil Kim ’18 put in solid scrummaging performances, while Evan Dwyer ’18 emerged as one of the team’s most dangerous young offensive players. CRFC will look continue their winning ways on May 2 at the Maine State Championships.

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