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In the penultimate weekend of the American Rugby Premiership fall season, Old Blue held off a surging Mystic River club, 32-25, and the New York Athletic Club crushed the Boston Irish, 81-29. Old Blue’s victory completes a season sweep over the defending DI National Champions, but Mystic will now shift its focus to NYAC this Saturday. Old Blue will conclude its fall season at home against Boston.
After Mystic River lost at Old Blue by seven points in mid September, the men from Malden had the November date circled on their calendars for the rematch in Massachusetts. Mystic came into the contest riding a three game winning streak that included a 43-17 win over Life two weeks ago. For Old Blue, it was looking to rebound from back-to-back losses to Life and NYAC.
“With the season on the line, I think we're just a little more hungry, a little more desperate for the win after two straight losses,” Old Blue captain Alex Schwarz said after the 32-25 win.
“It was a big matchup for us in the forwards,” Schwarz added. “They have a great pack with forwards who can run hard and steal ball at the breakdown. Fortunately, we were able to front up and give them a little bit of trouble at the set piece. They also have a very strong backline, but again, we were able to diffuse their main threats with some good line speed from Josh Rice in the centers.”
Both clubs brought their ‘A’ game to the match resulting in a 13-13 tie at halftime. Old Blue’s Stephan Rossouw and Mystic’s Alatasi Tupou traded penalties to start the contest. For the rest of the half, each side asked and answered their opponent with back and forth tries.
Mystic was first in the tryzone when the forward pack exerted its will over their counterparts with a five-meter pushover try for flanker Jon Kokinda. Old Blue’s Mike St. Claire responded with a ball from a lineout out wide to backs. Mystic came right back as Robbie Malneek diced up the defense for the score, but the visiting team tied it up with Lance Cavanaugh finding space on the short side from 22 meters out.
Old Blue burst out gate in the second half scoring three times before Mystic could muster a response. Lock David Shotton began with forwards try following a goal line scrum, Connor Wallace-Sims scored off a chip and chase, and reserve Derek Lipscomb found the corner after some consistent phase play.
Not to go down without a fight, the Mystic offense awoke in the final ten minutes. From his flyhalf position, Malneek cut up the defense again setting up Tupou for the try. With the score at 32-20 and precious moments remaining, Mystic played until the final whistle notching one last push at the whitewash as Sean Rafferty dotted down the closing try. Although Mystic never quit and kept battling to the bitter end, Old Blue endured to earn the season sweep, 32-25.
“We played our worst match of the year,” Mystic head coach Josh Smith explained. “Old Blue did a great job of punishing us for our mistakes and turning them into points. In the first half, we had too many turnovers inside their 22 meters and left too many points on the field. It was our third loss of the season by one score.”
Mystic River will have little time to dwell on the defeat as a date with NYAC is on Saturday. “We will try to finish the fall on a high note traveling to Travers Island versus NYAC,” Smith added. “[To defeat NYAC,] we need to limit our unforced errors and let the attack develop. Against Life, we played loose and really opened up attack. That is where we need to be.”
For the first ten minutes at Travers Island on Saturday afternoon, the visiting Boston Irish looked to have the edge against NYAC. The home team refocused its efforts scoring 49 straight points before the Wolfhounds could catch their breaths. NYAC scored another four tries in the last 20 minutes to Boston Irish’s two for the 81-29 victory.
NYAC head coach Mike Quinn indicated his squad’s clinical approach was the deciding factor in the game “Boston Irish was an improved side from what we played against earlier in Canton. They came out firing and were up early on us. Once we composed ourselves, we took our chances extremely well. We controlled the match and deserved to win. To put up so many points, we executed on every chance we got.”
In the victory, NYAC scored a total of 12 tries as Seamus Kelly (2), Stephen Sanchez, Ryan McTiernan, Justin Hundley (2), Ross Deacon, Greg Voight, Jake Turnball, Seth Cohen, Jack Fitzpatrick, and Nick Wolley recorded tallies. In addition, wing Alex Hodgkinson connected on eight conversions. For the Wolfhounds, Cathal Finneran, James Philips, Daniel Collins, and Michael Durant dotted down tries in the defeat and fullback Tadhg Leader slotted three conversions and a penalty.
After the match, NYAC’s concentration changed almost immediately to Saturday’s season-ending game against Mystic River. Coach Quinn has immense respect for Mystic and the program it represents. “Mystic is, still to me, the best side in the country because they are the National Champions... They went after the Holy Grail and they got it. This season has been whirlwind for them because everyone is coming after them as opposed to them going after everybody else.”
“[Mystic River] is a really good, organized club,” Quinn added. “They recruit extremely well and aggressively. They have a huge amount of depth and have the largest squad of any club within the ARP. On top of that, they have a really good coaching setup. Josh Smith is an extremely smart guy and he has his players well drilled.”
In order to beat Mystic for a second time, Quinn expects an extremely brutal matchup. “You have to bring a physicality from #1 to #15 and then #1 to #23. Anyone who’s coming on the pitch has to bring that physicality as well. Ultimately, you have to beat them up physically. Once you get that physical edge over them, that’s when you can start playing ball... What we will try to do is to keep our penalty count down against them, be extremely physical, and take any single sniff that we get.”