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On a chilly December Saturday in Richmond, Virginia, the Capital Selects avenged their 2015 loss to the USA South Panthers with a hard-earned 28-20 win. In a highly anticipated rematch, both teams brought their best rosters, with five combined PRO Rugby and USA Select players on the pitch.
The Capital Selects came out firing, not allowing the Panthers to get out of their own 22 for the opening possessions. As the ball squirted out of a sloppy scrum, PRO scrumhalf Chris Saint (Potomac Exiles) scooped and fed flanker Alex Diegel (Potomac Exiles) around the corner for the game’s first points. USA Selects flyhalf Ben Cima (Rocky Gorge) missed the tough conversion, but would rebound with a penalty kick minutes later to spot the Capital an 8-0 lead.
USA South calmly regrouped and started to piece together quality phases with their talented backline. Deep in Capital territory, Panthers’ flyhalf Gannon Karena (Atlanta Renegades) connected on a penalty to close the gap to 8-3.
The Capital defense again tried to pin the South in its own end. With a scrum awarded to the Panthers, it looked like they’d escape as they prepared for an exit. However, the Capital came up with a huge steal against the head. Eightman Eric Hagen (Norfolk Blues) picked the ball off the back of the scrum and rumbled through and around the scrambled South defense until he centered the try. Cima hit the conversion for the 15-3 lead, but the breathing room would not last long.
Showing composure before the half, the South marched the ball down the field. The Capital defensive stand was thwarted when PRO prop Chris Schade (Columbus) powered across the try line to close the gap for the Panthers. The Karena conversion brought the score to 15-10 at the break.
Early in the second stanza, South captain and fullback Zach Miller (North Atlanta) exploded through a gap and would not be caught. Karena again nailed the kick to give the Panthers a 17-15 lead. With both teams bringing the intensity in the second period, that score held until Cima hit another penalty to put the Capital back on top, 18-17. Karena responded with a PK of his own, giving the South the lead in this back and forth match.
The South’s 20-18 advantage lasted until Hagen scored his second try of the game, and the Cima conversion gave the Capital a five-point advantage. Another Cima penalty put his team up by eight with just minutes to play. The Capital Selects fielded the kickoff and calmly wound the clock down to seal the victory.
For Capital head coach Chris Porter, it was a team effort led by the forwards that keyed the win. “I think what really stood out was our forward pack. In the set piece, we were really strong, especially in the scrum. We had a lot of big breaks from our pack, and made [the South] put two or three backs on our forwards, which opened up space for our backs.”
USA South coach Rene Daniels came away impressed by the match’s speed. “The pace of the game [especially] for the first 15 minutes was extremely fast. I thought there was no way that pace was going to continue, that the game would slow down, which it did. It slowed down and we got a little bit of momentum back. We did real well in the last ten of the first half and the first ten of the second.”
Both teams hope to continue the rivalry with an annual match. “I think every December it’s a great thing for the South and the Capital to showcase our best players and give them a chance to play in a high level game. I look forward to going down to the South next year, returning the trip, and hopefully getting another win,” said Porter.
Missed opportunities will keep Daniels and the Panthers hungry for that third game. “We were up by two, but then there was some indecision on the South side. We didn’t go for posts when there was a really good opportunity to go for posts.”
This match took on a different identity than the first, where 73 combined points lit up the scoreboard. Round two was a much more defensive affair, and a different winner came out on top. The common thread was high quality, entertaining play in a new rivalry that all rugby fans can enjoy.
Capital Rugby Union Selects
- Josh Brown, Rocky Gorge
- Siale Viliami, Pittsburgh Harlequins
- Matias Cima, Rocky Gorge
- Chris Kunkel, Rocky Gorge
- Nick Sandoval, Norfolk Blues
- Ben Cima, Rocky Gorge
- Jake Humphrey, Norfolk Blues
- Alex Diegel, Potomac Exiles (Captain)
- Eric Hagen, NOVA
- Nick Zitani, Raleigh Vipers
- Nick Kuhl, Rocky Gorge (Vice-Captain)
- Steven Davis, Washington
- Adam Floyd, James River
- Will Hagan, Norfolk Blues
- Sam Ausden, Rocky Gorge
- Ryan Burns, Baltimore-Chesapeake
- Jovilski Fotofili, Washington
- Brady Smith, Rocky Gorge
- Jimmy Smith, Norfolk Blues
- Jason Vanterpool, Potomac Exiles
- Chris Saint, Potomac Exiles
- Matt Quigley, Potomac Exiles
- Akinola Raymond, Rocky Gorge
- Zack Schell, Pittsburgh Harlequins
USA Rugby South Panthers
- Amro Gouda, Charlotte
- Ben Paul, Fort Bragg
- Brendan Smith, Birmingham
- Calvin Storey, Raleigh
- Chase Riemer, Chattanooga
- Chris Milledge, Charlotte
- Daniel DeLand, Camp Lejeune Misfits
- David Coleman, Birmingham
- Gannon Karena, Atlanta Renegades
- Hein Erasmus, Miami Tridents
- Irving Carcamo, Charlotte
- Jamal Hadley, Augusta
- Jarrett Gartin, North Atlanta
- John Bryant, Charleston
- Lyall Harrison, Chattanooga
- Matt Fontana, Atlanta Renegades
- Matt Hughston, Ohio Aviators (Vice-Captain)
- Mikey Sanders, Macon
- Stephen Cappello, Orlando
- Todd Sherer, Columbia
- Wayne Chermely Knoxville
- Zach Blalock, Birmingham
- Zach Miller, North Atlanta (Captain)