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The Capital Defense ready for the Stars' next attack. Colleen McCloskey Photo.

Surrounded by mountains of snow at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va., the Capital Rugby Union Men’s and Women’s Selects Sides defeated Stars Rugby in two exhibition matches on Sunday afternoon. Both matches ended with the experience and depth of Capital Sides prevailing late in each game. The Capital Women won 55-24 with five tries in the second half and the Capital Men outscored the Stars eight tries to two in a 68-20 victory.

With a USA Rugby scout on hand to watch the games, all participants made sure to put in their best efforts. “It was a good opportunity for some of the talent that barely had a chance to get looked at by the Eagles,” Capital Women head coach Julius “Toga” Fanueli said. “I think this was a good way that both sides came together to play a game in front of a scout. The game went really well. We made a few mistakes here and there, but its what happens when you put together a team a day before the game.”

Liz Entwhistle, Director of Stars Rugby, echoed Fanueli’s thoughts. “We were successful in terms of our mission of developing players. We had DII, DIII, and a lot of collegiate players that got to experience their first all-star rugby...It was a disappointed outcome on the score line, but we have players that would have never got a USA look. Because someone was there scouting, they could now be in contention for collegiate All-Americans or the next NASC camps.”

The first half of the women’s game was extremely competitive as the Stars began the test with a quick tap penalty for a try by Justine Wypych (Wisconsin) and conversion by Siera Snap (United States Naval Academy). The Capital side answered with four straight tries to take a 24-7 lead. CJ Hildreth (NOVA), Chelsea Garber (Raleigh), Jessica Meidinger (Raleigh), and Jen Larrimore (Raleigh) each scored with Garber adding two conversions.

The Stars came right back with Wypych’s second try and a try and conversion by Snap to close the gap to 24-19. The Stars were on the verge of tying or taking the lead near the end of the half, but a penalty thwarted their effort.

The second half was all Capital as it scored five tries in the period. Sarah Lundy (Raleigh), Avery Rain (NOVA), Kristen Maxey (Norfolk), Maggie Olney (DC Furies), and Larrimore each scored for the home team. Garber hit three more conversions for 17 total points on the day. Snap did score a try for the Stars in the half, but it wasn’t enough in the end as the Capital Women won, 55-24.

The strategy of Stars head coach Joe Lippert was to get the ball out wide and let his x-factors on the wing, Justine Wypych and Siera Snap, find space and score. “It was a bit back and forth early,” Lippert said. “We got the try from Justine, they controlled the middle of the first half, then we got two more going into halftime.”

“In the second half, the Selects’ class showed,” Lippert remarked. “They had some of the continuity that we were lacking. They controlled the mid-field in particular. Their #10 (Garber), #12 (Larrimore), and #13 (Meidinger) did a really good job of opening things up in the midfield.... When we made mistakes, they capitalized on them. They were definitely more effective stringing together multiple phases than we were.”

Coach Fanueli commented that teamwork of the Capital side led them to victory. “We knew that we had the experience and quality of player. We just had to put that together and play as a team. That’s how we beat them. Most of the Stars’ tries came off very individual broken plays and most of our tries came off very organized play and set pieces. It’s all team effort.”

In the end, Capital President Matt Robinnette said, “I’m very happy with how the women’s team came together. It was disappointing when our first match was cancelled. These women were chomping at the bit to get on the pitch. Every player, on both teams, really enjoyed themselves. I encourage them to take their experiences back to their home clubs.”

Similar to the women’s game, the men’s match started great for the Stars as John Sullivan (Saint Bonaventure) shot his team out to an early lead with Matt Ryan (San Diego Old Aztecs) kicking the conversion. The Capital’s prop Bryan Kaminski (Baltimore-Chesapeake) tied the game with try and a Ben Cima (Rocky Gorge) conversion. A penalty kicking war commenced with Ryan and Cima exchanging two PKs each to tie the game again at 13-13.

Capital Men’s head coach Chris Porter said, “When we started securing the contact area and moving the ball, we took over the game.  We were able to link up well between our forwards and backs, which led us to exploit some mismatches in the open field... We played a good structured game and took advantage of the space the Stars gave us. The Stars were very physical and aggressive and made us work in the contact area.”

Tied at 13-13, Capital Selects began their march and closed out the half with 17 unanswered points. Kaminski scored his second try and fullback Nick Kuhl (Rocky Gorge) raced in for a score. From his flyhalf position, Cima connected on both conversions and ended the period with a PK for the 30-13 lead.

Much like the women’s match, the Capital Men used the momentum from the end of the first half to catapult them in the second half. Josh Brown (Rocky Gorge) and Alan Rhodes (Roanoke) each scored for the Capital Selects before a Stars’ Tom Kacor (Western Michigan University) try stopped the bleeding for the moment at 44-20.

A PK by Cima started the scoring again for the Selects as Rocky Gorge representatives, Dustin Meehan and Brown, scored the next two tries. A final try by the Capital side sealed the victory at 68-20.

“Our lack of discipline on defense was the key to Capital's success,” Stars head coach Jeff Horton said. “Simply put, we made too many careless mistakes and committed too many penalties... Capital played exactly the way we anticipated: physical. We knew that their forwards would be the difference maker in the match and we were hoping to utilize our athleticism to disrupt their strategy.”

“Our style of play worked initially,” Horton noted, “but they were able to make the appropriate adjustments and they exposed some of our weaknesses. As the match progressed, Capital was able to 'bully' us down the field, specifically with their eightman.”  

Coach Porter received many significant impact performances from his players, especially Alex Diegel (Potomac Exiles). “Alex seemed to be everywhere and did a good job of getting our attack moving forward. Chris Saint (Potomac Exiles) and Ben Cima did an excellent job of setting up our attack. Their decision making put the defense on their backfoot and let our players show their open field play. Our back row of Josh Brown, Eric Hagen (Norfolk) and Dustin Meehan had a high work rate and created problems for the Star's defense.”

As for the Stars, Horton said, “Overall, the eightman (Josh Brown) from Capital would get my vote for 'Man of the Match.' For the Stars, I would say Bobby Kling (Washington Irish) played the best. Bobby was relentless in his pursuit of the Capital ball carriers and made his presence known from sideline to sideline... It's safe to say that eightman, Tom Kacor, enjoyed being in the pack once again. After watching Tom take multiple hard carries straight through the heart of the Capitol defense, it's hard to imagine that Tom played fly-half for Western Michigan University.”

The next step for the Capital Selects won’t be until next fall or spring as to not interfere with any club season activities. “The Union's next project will be designed to take advantage of this momentum,” Robinnette added. “We will be bringing 7s Selects online within 12 months with the goal of entering sides in NY7s in 2016 and LVI 2017. I am very pleased with the select side season and how in culminated this past weekend. The Union should see continued investment in these programs, but with broader impact on many more of our members.”

The Stars will be concentrating on their 7s program by entering the Las Vegas Invitational and Vancouver 7s with multiple sides. “We have players coming from all of the US, as well as Canada, England and Australia,” Entwhistle said. “This year, things are set up that we are going to really peak with Vegas. We have a strong roster with a lot of returning experienced players... We get to keep building this community and put together this really strong side with fantastic coaches that will definitely be a top elite level tournament for us.”