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The Austin Blacks further solidified their spot atop the Red River Rugby Conference DI table over the weekend with a narrow win over the Dallas Reds. The 34-30 victory also reaped positive results for the Blacks in the Gold Cup Championship.
The key to the Blacks’ victory on Saturday was a balanced, albeit imperfect, match. Where the Blacks had a solid group from 1-15, the Reds had a few new combinations in the back line. Those irregular arrangements caused the Reds to have issues that cost the team points.
“When we kept the ball we scored, so keeping possession was the key,” said Tane Jericivich, head coach of the Austin Blacks. “We struggled in the first half through our own mistakes and couldn't turn pressure into points. At the start of the second half we came out and scored five unanswered tries.”
“Typically, the team with the fewest errors and defensive miscues tends to be the one to prevail,” the Reds' Filip Keuppens. “We matched up very well in the forwards but were missing a few players in the backline, causing a few of our players to have to play out of position which led to some critical line breaks from the opponent.”
Arkansas State products Patrick Sullivan and Zac Mizell proved to be especially troublesome throughout the match. These two ball carriers’ ability to break the line kept the Reds on the back foot. The speed and physicality of Levi Kereti and Brendan Rams also made defending difficult for the Reds. Samuel Rooke scored a set of tries for the Blacks on Saturday as well. Rickey Johnson also had a try.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic on Saturday, though. The forward pack for the Reds made a big impact on the match and kept it competitive, and Dallas' offense benefitted from staunch defense. Spencer Cameron put in a pair of tries, while Dale Russ and Chad Joseph each had one. Blake Boulton took on the responsibilities from the tee during the match and did well to supplement the rest of the offense. Boulton drew first blood from the tee, slotting the first of two successful penalty kicks nine minutes into the match. He also successfully converted two tries.
“We had some outstanding opportunities,” Keuppens said. “But, in the end, some untimely knock-ons and handling errors prevented us from dotting down the would-be game-winning try.”
“All credit to the Reds,” Jericivich said. “We let them claw back into the game and in the final moments it was in the balance. They have some big, strong runners who you must go low on. We let them gain momentum through some poor defense which resulted in points.”
Though neither team can afford to dwell on the weekend’s result, the outcome has different meaning for each team. According to Keuppens, the narrow loss proved that his team can compete with anyone in a much-improved Blacks side, and any side in the nation. With this win, Austin gets one step closer to closing out the Gold Cup competition. If the Blacks keep winning and take next two matches in Dallas against Metropolis and Kansas City the team will secure the Gold Cup.
The Blacks face the Griffins next weekend, while the Reds will have this Saturday off and face the Griffins on February 27. Both teams are taking the upcoming matches very seriously, due to the fact that the Griffins have been on a streak of wins in recent weeks and have proven to be solid competitors in the conference.