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Columbus-Scioto Valley over the Chicago Griffins. Rick Kruszynski Photo.

Only one week removed from the Club 7s National Championship, 15s rugby begins anew starting in the Midwest. Fifteens crept up on the Midwest, but the scores didn’t show the rust of the summer. Three hundred total points were scored in four games with the top three teams from last season starting 2017 on a high note. With no Midwest competition planned for the spring, the conference started early to get entire 14 week schedule completed in the fall.

Chicago Griffins at Columbus-Scioto Valley

After getting younger and deeper in the offseason, the Columbus Rugby Club picked up where it left off at the end of last season by crushing the Chicago Griffins, 82-21. Scioto Valley punched through 12 tries by seven different players including four by fullback Peter Friedmann and three from eightman Riekert Hattingh.

Columbus sped out a 54-7 lead at halftime and then scored another four tries in the second. Joseph Schroeder, Roland Suniula, Ryan Cochran, Luke Hickey, and Taylor Howden also scored for Scioto Valley in the victory and Howden (9-10) and Tevita Maitvuki (2-2) combined for 11 conversions.

After taking over the team a year ago, head coach Phil Payne has witnessed a dramatic change in the club.  When he started, Columbus only had 17 players at practice and now the team has grown to over 60 players deep. After finishing 12-3 last season but not advancing to Nationals, Payne retooled this summer and is ready to take the next step this fall.

“We are building on the team we had last year,” Payne said. “We added significant depth in the tight five and our back line last year was one of the best in the country. Now, to have the depth to win all the scrums, steal their lineouts, and having a back line playing at a high level, we are doing things out there that is already advanced and it’s just the first game of the season.”

Milwaukee Barbarians at the Chicago Lions

After advancing at the 15s Final Four and coming in seventh at the Club 7s National Championships, the Chicago Lions have been busy. With the addition of multiple college recruits and players returning from injury, the Lions are ready to defend their Midwest Championship and return to Nationals in 2018.

The first task on its 14 game schedule this fall was the visiting Milwaukee Barbarians. After being down 12-7 early in the match, the Lions rebounded scoring 38 straight points to lead 45-12 in the beginning of the second half. Chicago traded tries with Milwaukee to end the game, but ended up doubling its opponent, 59-26. Frikkie De Beer (2), Dave Whitney, Thomas Kacor, Ethan Porter, Pat Rappleye, Brady Gent, and Sean Mahon scored tries for the Lions and Matt Hundley had eight conversions and a penalty.

“The intensity we played with in the first 60 minutes was key to victory,” Chicago head coach Dave Clancy stated. “We executed our game plan well in attack and took out chances very well considering we are only back training for three weeks and only one week as a full group after our 7s run to the Nationals.”

“We simply had more possession than Milwaukee for the majority of the game and it was a tough day for them,” Clancy added. “I know they were missing some key players including their player/coach from the backline, so I expect them to be a lot stronger next time we face them."

Chicago has spent a majority of its prep time before the first match getting its new faces up to speed. Jake Hidalgo (Indiana), Jack Carso (St. Mary’s) Brady Gent (Davenport), Mike Lau (Davenport), Aaron Thomas (Ohio State), Jack Walsh (Ohio State), Jake Lackovic (Mississippi), and Elliot Thiem (Wisconsin) join the team as well as welcoming back Michael Ziegler, Sean Mahon and Harry Deck who are returning from injury. Adding to the depth of the squad, the Lion’s DIII side won its first ever game over the Woodsmen, 55-24.

“It’s early days and we know we will have some strong challenges ahead of us, but we are satisfied with getting the result on the weekend and look to build on our performance moving forward,” Clancy concluded. The Lions face Metropolis next weekend.

Metropolis at the Kansas City Blues

To begin the 2017-2018 Midwest season, Metropolis came back from a 20 point first half deficit to win 42-27 over the Kansas City Blues. Cody Weber and Sean Murray got the Blues on the board first with Kelly Mercer chipping in two conversions and two penalties. Metropolis started its comeback about 30 minutes in as David McGill, Vita Makasini, and Joeli Tikoisuva scored to close the gap to 20-19 at the half.

The Minneapolis, Minn. club took the lead with a Bryant Larson try and a Brian Ptomey penalty. KC cut the lead to two points with a Brendan Nachbar try at 29-27, but Metropolis’ Ekapatelisio Veamatahau and Jerome Strother Jr. finished the game with tries and Ptomey added a PK at the end for the 42-27 victory.

In his first season as the Metropolis head coach, Rob Holder takes over a young squad with a ton of potential. On the comeback, Holder said, “We eliminated mistakes. KC took advantage of a lot of our mistakes early on. We were playing nervous and were making decent decisions but our execution was poor. Our execution got better and once we scored a couple of tries at the end of the first half, our confidence went up.”

Metropolis travels to the Chicago Lions next week and Holder expects a tough challenge.  “We want to continue to gain experience and test ourselves. They are going to be really good so we will test our young guys and gain experience and composure.”

Cincinnati Wolfhounds at the Palmer College Dragons

In the final match of the weekend, Palmer College ripped off 40 unanswered points after giving up a penalty to start the game. The Dragons scored six tries to win 40-3 over the Cincinnati Wolfhounds. Charbel Medlej (2), Ben Deig, Glen Maricelli, Tyler Graham, and Cody Simpson had tries for Palmer with David Jerson and Gareth Lourens combining for five conversions.

Beating Cincinnati to start the season was a big deal for Palmer.We have not beaten Cincinnati in over three years and have a lot of respect for the rugby and aggression that comes from the Hounds,” Palmer head coach Michael Lawrenson said.We prepared efficiently for this opening game with special emphasis on our assistant coach, Giovanni Frapporti, who has been thorough with the team's endurance training, which showed on Saturday.

“We were able to play at a speed that Cincinnati was unable to keep up with, allowing more line breaks, less mistakes and more errors on their defense,” Lawrenson continued. “Defensively, we were more aggressive and our line speed stopped the ball before any momentum was gained. We look forward to playing Cincinnati later in the season and expect another grueling, hard fought match.”