You are here
It's been getting so maybe somebody doesn't want the US Naval Academy rugby team to play anyone.
Given that Navy had to cancel some games in the fall due to the government shutdown, and than add in the fact that longtime rivals Army were suspended last year, and then so was Delaware, and now Penn State is, at the moment, under suspension, and then add in the horrendous late winter weather along the East Coast that has scuttled playing opportunities, you'd forgive the Midshipmen for thinking someone wants them on the sidelines.
Well, they will be on the sidelines no more, as Navy hosts the US Military Academy in the always-exciting Army-Navy game.
"We haven't played a lot of rugby," lamented Navy Head Coach Mike Flanagan. "But the rugby we've played has been pretty darned good. we played Dartmouth in New York and that was a good game. We got the Norfolk Blues in here, and that was a good game. And Kutztown was good, too. The guys have played well, just not a lot."
Leading the way for Navy has been their halfback combo of Ricky Neel-Feller and Jack McAuliffe, who are experienced and very skilled. Flanker Spencer Wilson and lock Dave Dolinar have provided not only leadership and power up front, but a field-ranging speed that has opened up the Navy attack. Ron Helms is part of an impressive backline.
They will need all of this for an Army team that has been quietly trying to play rugby and get back in the country's good graces. West Point rugby was suspended last season after it came to light that players had been distributing a sort of email newsletter that circulated offensive jokes and trash talk about classmates.
Coming as it did in the midst of a series of issues regarding the treatment of women in the military, the revelation hurt the program, which was shuttered until the winter. Director of Rugby Rich Pohlidal lost his job, and an interim Head Coach, former Army Head Coach Mike Mahan, was brought in. All players had to undergo a detailed punishment and sensitivity program.
Now they are playing rugby again, and on Tuesday they beat a solid Iona team 73-0 as a warmup to the big one on Saturday.
"Iona was very good and I think competed better than the score shows," Mahan told RUGBYMag.com. "I know they are working toward competing at a higher level and we're looking forward to having another strong team in New York."
Mahan has a roster of 60 players, with two-thirds of the team is made up of returners, but the youngsters are major part of the Army rugby effort.
They started five freshmen against Iona, and some young players will see time on Saturday, also. Tom Rowe had a good game for Army against Iona, and the fullback named Man of the Match. He will be part of an eager Army backline. Up front, captain Jeff Ferebee leads the tight five, which, Mahan said, is coming together. (Note: Army prop Donald Goff is no relation to RUGBYMag's Editor Alex Goff.)
"We are looking forward to it but it will be tough," said Mahan. "We haven't seen Navy play, although they have a smart and very experienced halfback combo. We have a lot of young kids, and we are just happy we can play this game."
(Note - it's expected that if Penn State's disciplinary issues prevent them from playing in the 2014 CRC, that Army will be invited to replace them. Army had to pull out of the 2013 CRC due to their own disciplinary issues. The CRC website currently lists a blank space where Penn State used to be.)
It's all about the meeting of these two great rivals - a rematch of last year's game won by Army on a late long-range penalty by Army flyhalf Will Holder.
"We are thrilled to have Army come here," added Flanagan.
This game is usually massively physical, and it seems this won't be any different. At present, Navy is older and more experienced, and they are playing at home. But that sort of situation has happened before, and the visitors have pulled out a surprise.
Before the game graduates of these academies who were killed in action.
Those names can be seen here