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Glendale Merlins on the run. Linda Brothers Photo.

Four divisions were at it again in an action-packed weekend of DI Club rugby. The Glendale Merlins stayed undefeated with a tight win over Life, while Old Blue ran past Mystic River in the ARP/Atlantic North. Norfolk and Rocky Gorge remain unbeaten in the Mid-Atlantic, and the Potomac Exiles improved to 3-2. In the Midwest, Metropolis is distancing itself from the pack after improving to 9-0 while Palmer, Columbus, and Cincinnati also notched victories. In the Pacific Northwest, the Valley Kangaroos held off the Portland Pigs and Snake River took down the Tacoma Nomads.

ARP Friendly and Atlantic North

The Glendale Merlins traveled cross-country to Marietta, Ga. and came away with a hard-fought 22-15 win against the Life Running Eagles ETG. After 28 minutes of intense rugby, Glendale struck first with a converted try off of a maul five meters out to lead 7-0. The score held until just before halftime when Life got on the board with an unconverted try.

It was Life that scored first in the second half to go up 8-7 in Glendale’s stiffest test thus far this season. The Merlins’ deficit did not last long with scores at 49’ and 68’ giving the visitors a 19-8 lead. Life fought back and brought it to within four points at 19-15 with six minutes to go. However, Glendale sealed the victory with a late penalty kick to win 22-15.

“It was a very hard-fought, physical game," Glendale coach David Williams said. "I give massive credit to Life for that physicality and kind of shutting us down. We took a long time to get into our shape and when we did get into our shape we made some meters. But we just failed; too many basic execution errors, dropping the ball, knock-ons. And that meant we had to defend for large portions of the game. Hats off to Life, they really stepped it up and I wish them the best in the rest of their season.”

in Malden, Mass., Old Blue responded to its loss to Glendale with a big 52-25 win over Mystic River. Each club ran into penalty and card trouble that included two yellows and a red for Mystic. Old Blue took advantage and used momentum to move to 3-0 in the Atlantic North. 

The home team struck first with a Dor Perl try and Anthony Purpura’s try tied it at seven apiece eight minutes in. After trading penalty kicks, Old Blue went on a run with four consecutive tries from Kyle Granby, Keenan Jacobs and Nate Augspurger (2) to take a commanding 38-10 lead. Mystic's John Spooney scored just before halftime to make it more interesting, but the damage had been inflicted.

After some initial interplay to begin the second half, Mystic was red carded for a high tackle and Old Blue took advantage with a David Shotton try to make it 45-15. Two yellows within five minutes for Old Blue made it 14 on 13, but Mystic was unable to score. The visitors found the endzone via a Michael St. Claire try at 72' and Mystic never gave up scoring twice in the final five minutes for the 52-25 tally.

“I think initially it was just the focus and desire to bounce back from a big loss the previous week to Glendale,” Old Blue coach Dom Wareing explained about what powered his team’s win. “We worked hard at practice; we studied up on what we needed to improve on. We had a good defensive effort this weekend. Mystic River at home is a vastly different team the one that came down to New York.”

Next Saturday, both squads will be featured in marquee match-ups. Mystic River travels to Life in Georgia while Old Blue gets its second shot at Glendale, this time at home in New York.

“Our main focus is going to be maintaining possession, playing smarter rugby,” Wareing said on the rematch. “Playing in the right area of the field, making sure all the pressure is on Glendale. So in order to improve that pressure, we’ve got to front up defensively. Force them to kick to us then play with our tempo and pace.”

Mid-Atlantic

In the second of the home-and-home series, Rocky Gorge once again got the better of Pittsburgh, 43-14, at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. The victory extends Gorge's winning streak to 4-0 and tied with Norfork for the conference lead.

Will Miller and Cordero Curry spotted Gorge a 14-0 lead aided by conversions by inside center CJ Leadingham to start the game. Pittsburgh's Steve Novacic answered with a score at 30’, but Gorge came right back with a converted try from flanker Dustin Meehan and a Leadingham penalty kick to go into halftime up 24-7.

It took only two minutes in the second half for the visitors to go up 31-7 with the try from fullback Eugene Becton and another conversion by Leadingham. Scrumhalf Nick Sylor made it 36-7 before an intercept try by the Harlequin's Zack Kochin closed the gap to 36-14. Gorge finished as it started with a converted try, this one from reserve Phillip Perrault and conversion from #10 Matias Cima.

“We did a great job of moving the ball,” Rocky Gorge coach Nick DiMichele said about the win. “Continuity one through fifteen was the best I’ve seen yet. We are trying to play a faster game and yesterday it seemed to click. With several of our usual backs out, we’ve had a different flyhalf every game. Matias Cima stepped into the spot and controlled the game for us. CJ Leadingham did a great job using the boot."

The Potomac Exiles secured its second straight strong win with a 41-26 victory over the Washington Irish in D.C. The win pushes Potomac's record to one game above 0.500 while sending the Irish to 1-4.

The Exiles dominated the first half speeding the way to a 24-0 lead. The Lopresti brothers scored a try apiece in the first 20 minutes followed by outside center Tyler Blaser and wing Joanel Joseph. Flyhalf Matt Quigley added two conversions in the half.

With the momentum, prop Dom Smith’s try and another Quigley conversion extended the lead to 31-0 before Irish answered with two Mike Fletcher tries at 60’ and 65’. At 70', Quigley tacked on a penalty kick and a conversion following Dante Lopresti’s second try to make it 41-14. Irish fought through to the end with two late Duncan Wood tries to bring the match to its final margin, 41-26.

“We definitely had to stick to our pattern of play, because we were out with a couple of injuries to key positions,” Potomac head coach Owen Lentz explained. "We got our basics right, we got out scrums right, we just stuck to the structure. I think we attacked the space that they gave us reasonably well. Our forwards were pretty good—they put pressure on them. There were some young guys that stepped up as well [particularly] Matt Kelly who won us some good lineout ball.”

The struggles for Baltimore-Chesapeake continued on Saturday as the Norfolk Blues handed the Brumbies a 45-5 home loss in Baltimore, Md. It was 5-5 early on, but things went downhill from there for BC. The Blues scored six straight tries to end the game.

Norfolk’s defensive stands at the end of the first half and start of the second may have been the turning points that put the game completely in the Blues’ favor. The home team knocked on the door with its big forwards, but Norfolk was up to the task and both opportunities went begging for BC.

Norfolk coach Chris Porter thought it was a complete start-to-finish effort that led to the big score line for his club.  “It’s the first time that we’ve played a full 80 minutes to the pattern and style of play we want to do,” he said. “Our forwards took the ball up and caused them to collapse the defense. When they collapsed the defense, our backs just took advantage of every open gap. Our backs ran hard and hit the gaps then put each other away.”

It had to have been an emotional win for Norfolk. The team is just over a week removed from the tragic passing of captain Eric Hagen’s wife, due to a car accident. Next week will be the Blues’ “Remember Abby” match at home in Norfolk. “We’re really looking forward to stepping on the pitch for a memorial match for Abby and showing Eric that there’s a lot of love for him and his family in the rugby community,” Porter said. 

A donation has been setup in the names of Eric and Abby’s young sons to contribute to the boys’ college funds. If you’d like to consider a donation, just follow the link and enter code S80-K8N for Eli or Q23-M52 for Henry.

Midwest

In Minneapolis, Minn., the battle between the top squads of the Midwest saw Metropolis stay undefeated while handing the Chicago Lions its second loss of the season, 37-29.

Fullback Brady Gent gave the Lions an early lead and Metro wing Carter Beelman struck back for the seven-all tie 18 minutes in. Eightman Pita Naruma and another Bryan Ptomey conversion made it 14-7 Metro at 21’, but Chicago's Jake Hidalgo answered seven minutes later. A try by wing Melvin Desouza lengthened Metro's advantage to 19-12 and that score held until halftime.

In the second half, a drop goal from Ratu Rinakama followed by tries from Desouza and Naruma gave Metropolis some breathing room, up 34-12 with 24 to play. After a flurry of red cards (two for Metro and one for Chicago), the Lions mounted a comeback, but it was a bit too late. Chicago got to within 12 points of the lead with tries from Spencer Cameron and Dan Coci, but their momentum was stopped with Rinakama's second drop goal. In the closing minutes of the match, Chicago continued to fight and picked up a valuable bonus try via Cameron's second score.

“We targeted this as a big match; the Lions are really good,” Metropolis coach Rob Holder said. “I was proud of the way the boys kept plugging away. Our set piece was strong, I thought we had a bit of an advantage in the scrums and the lineouts, driving. We really had to try and contain their pack. They have some really good players that drove and made the impact in the open play. We had to really dominate the tight stuff so we could open things up.”

Now 9-0 and with a victory over one of last season’s National DI Club Final Four teams, Holder explained the uptick in play for Metropolis this season.  “It’s depth,” he explained simply. “We’ve had, as everybody does, a number of injuries and unavailability. It’s been the depth of the squad that’s really helped us through it. It’s one week at a time. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, and we have a lot of tough matches coming up. It’s back to work on Tuesday.”

Columbus RFC took care of business at home in Columbus, Ohio to the tune of a 48-15 victory over the Kansas City Blues. Eightman Riekert Hattingh, lock Justin Stevens, and the boot of #10 Taylor Howden put Columbus up 14-0 just ten minutes in. Wing Mason Baum and the Howden conversion made it 21-0 before Kansas City got on the board with a penalty kick, then a converted try made it 21-10 at 32’. Columbus thwarted the Blues’ attempt to steal momentum with a try and penalty kick, both courtesy of Howden, to go into the half up 29-10.

Three second-half tries to the Blues’ one finished the match in Columbus’ favor. Hattingh, flanker Richie Hines (2), and two more Howden conversions finished the scoring for the home team. With the victory, Columbus is 6-3 and is just three standing points behind the Lions.

In Davenport, Ia., Palmer College held off a tough Milwaukee side, 32-27. Milwaukee struck first and last, but the Dragons took care of business in the middle.

Wing Ben Deig's try and David Jerson’s conversion gave Palmer its first lead at 12’. The Barbarians answered to go up 10-7, then it was Palmer’s turn and scrummy Takura Tela’s try made it 12-10 at halftime.

The Dragons opened the second stand with three unanswered tries from eightman Glen Maricelli, wing Ryan Loupee, and prop Tery Laursen to distance itself, 27-10. Two Milwaukee tries made it 27-20, but Deig’s second score proved to be the decisive try before the Barbarians finished for the final, 32-27.

In a rainy day that limited attack, it became a game of physicality. “The ball didn’t get out wide much," Palmer coach Mike Lawrenson explained. "It really became a grunge match; who’s going to take it to the other team without spreading the ball, without footwork, because if you tried to take a step you’d be slipping. We usually struggle in the scrums versus Milwaukee, but we really dominated them [Saturday] and that let us have a great platform to launch off. The set piece in the rain really, really helped us. It allowed us to attack downhill instead of struggling off the back foot.”

With its third win in the bag and some tight losses along the way, Palmer is hoping to make a run in the second half of the season. The return of Shane Wend at center and continued strong play of captain Maricelli should help. “We’re looking for the second half of the season to show what we’re made of," Lawrenson added. "We didn’t really get to highlight a lot of the skills that we have in those earlier games. We’re looking forward to bouncing back and showing what we have in the tank.”

The Cincinnati Wolfhounds defeated the Chicago Griffins 48-27 in front of the home crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Wolfhounds made a statement with an opening-minute try, Chicago answered quickly, and then Cincinnati scored back-to-back to go into halftime up 21-7. It was more of the same in the second, with Cincinnati scoring 27 more points en route to the win.

Pacific Northwest

The Valley Kangaroos handled the Portland Pigs 31-17 at home in Tukwila, Wash. A sluggish start for the Pigs was too much to overcome. Tries by Kennedy Kamau and Philmon Angilau gave Valley the early lead, but Portland responded with tries by Patrick Weldon and Tyler Holmer to trail 12-10. The Kangaroos extended the advantage to 19-0 at the half with an AJ Becker try.

Valley picked up where it left off in the second with tries at 46' and 52' by Drew Grant and Caleb Tuani for the 31-10 tally. The Kangaroo defense clamped down on the Pigs for the remainder of the match, save for a late score at the end of the test.

“We were down 12-0 within five minutes of the game,” Portland coach Mark Mahecic explained.  “For the first 40 minutes, we were not in the game at all and we just couldn’t recover. We’ve got a really strong pack, but Valley really did their homework. Our forwards just couldn’t get going; we played against a good pack that was really strong in all phases of the game.

The Tacoma Nomads went to Boise, Idaho and was sent packing with a 35-22 loss to Snake River. More information about this match was not available at the time of publication.

Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for Old Gaelic Rugby. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.