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With a crowd of 2,500 fans and supporters, the final game of the club championship weekend showcased the best of Division I rugby at Breese-Stevens Field in Madison, Wisc., as Life downed New Orleans 41-7 to win its second DI National Title in as many years.
“(We) played well, stuck to the gameplan, and got rewarded. Possession was the key of this game. NOLA is a pretty good side, they kept in it. They didn’t let their guard down with their tackling,” said Life coach Tui Osborne.
“(We) carried well into contact, and a good forwards ball set the platform for the backs. The boys played well and they have been working hard all season. It helped that we went through a few tough games with NYAC, Old Blue and Metropolis. It prepared us for whatever was going to come in this game.”
Life came out swinging and dictated the pace from the first whistle. Putting NOLA constantly under pressure, the Running Eagles caused their opponent into mistakes and errors consistently. NOLA scored a try late, flattering the lopsided final tally.
Life began piling points up early in the match in second minute, where off a lineout within the 22, the Running Eagles ran the ball with forwards then passed it out wide where fullback Zach Simkins scored in the corner. Life missed the conversion to make the score 5-0.
In the 20th minute, the Running Eagles started with a turnover by NOLA that led to a line break by flyhalf AJ MacGinty. The flyhalf dummied the ball twice and passed to wing Lance Cavanaugh who finished off the play with a score in the middle. MacGinty kicked the conversion and increased the lead to 12-0.
NOLA then had an opportunity to get on the board, but wing Ross Bellaci missed a penalty kick in the 24th minute.
On offense again in the 29th minute following a NOLA kick, Life’s backs cycled the ball to Cavanaugh, who raced down middle of the field dishing to scrumhalf Shaun Davies, who passed to wing Cornelius Dirksen for the try.
In the 34th minute, MacGinty was tagged with a yellow card for not releasing the tackler; however, NOLA was unable to capitalize on the man advantage. Going into halftime, Life was on top 17-0.
At the start of the second half, Life stressed ball retention, and momentum was clearly on their side as they starved NOLA for possession. With MacGinty back in the game, the Running Eagles picked up the pace and scored five more tries in the second half.
In the 46th minute after a forward pass, it was Life’s scrum near midfield. The ball was passed out the backs who found a streaking Dirksen for the try, converted by MacGinty. 12 minutes later after a stolen lineout close to the NOLA’s 22, Life immediately got the ball out wide for Cavanaugh to score. MacGinty again converted the kick to widen the margin, 29-0.
The Life offense didn’t let up as flanker David Gannon scored with a forwards ball in the 64th minute. The last Life points occurred in the 72nd minute as reserve TJ Van Patten chip kicked and chased his own ball for the try to make the score 41-0.
With four minutes left in the game, behind the encouragement of their fans, NOLA would not go quietly. Flanker Jarrett Falcon ran up the middle for a try following a penalty within the attacking 22, and fullback Chance Doyle kicked the conversion. When the final whistle blew, Life had won their second straight Division I title.
Life captain Kris Headlee was complimentary of New Orleans’ tenacity.
“NOLA always plays hard. They’re a fit team and fast. They had a fantastic season and a hard fought game today. Both teams had some unlucky bounces, but a lot of those bounces went in our favor. We were able to keep the pressure on them for most of the game.”
Though Life has scooped up its national titles after the fall of the Super League, and outside of the Elite Cup and Pacific Rugby Premierships, two competitions touted as the top level of American club rugby, the fashion in which it’s strung together back-to-back titles leaves no doubt the Running Eagles can run with anyone.
“The core group of players here have been running together for three or four seasons,” said Headlee. “Our continuity is really high and our theme for the entire season from September all the way through to today is constant improvement. We’ve shown that over the past few games.”
Life Running Eagles 41
Tries: Simkins, Cavanaugh (2), Dirksen (2), Gannon, Van Patten
Convs: MacGinty (3)
New Orleans Rugby 7