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In the epic matchup between the top teams of two of USA’s club premierships, Old Blue of New York beat the Chicago Lions, 38-28, to capture the 2018 USA Rugby Elite Cup Championship in Chicago, Ill. The game came down to who could dominate more from the first half to the second. Old Blue rang up a 33-3 lead in the first half, but Chicago made adjustments to outscore its opponent 26-5 in second. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t finish the rally and Old Blue hoisted the trophy after the whistle.
The first half couldn’t have gone better for the New Yorkers. After Chicago’s Harrison Deck chipped in a PK to start the game, Old Blue rode a train of five tries for the lead. Wing Luke Hume scored back-to-back tries to begin and looked to be on the verge of third but fellow Eagle Dylan Fawsitt barreled in instead. Connor Wallace-Sims used the overload to score in the 26th minute and Fawsitt dotted down another off a lineout.
“We came out all guns blazing and managed to find some space out wide, which got us on the front foot and allowed us to really keep the pressure on Chicago,” Old Blue head coach Dom Wareing said. “While we left a couple of scores out there, we were pretty clinical. Fair play to Chicago, they adjusted really well and battled back into the game through some great tight play and smarter kicks which didn’t allow us to counter.”
“Old Blue got the call wide in the first half and Luke Hume punished us,” Chicago head coach Dave Clancy said. “We gave them much too quick ball to play from by not being a threat at the breakdown. They were able to play fast front foot call too easily, we kick loosely, and made some simple errors in defense to give them a big lead.”
Battle back the Lions did as Chicago adjusted quickly as Jack Casey scored in the corner to cut the lead to 33-10. Old Blue answered with an Anthony Purpura score but Dom Bailey matched him with a try to make it 38-17 in the 59th minute. Old Blue was yellow carded in the 68 minute and Chciago used the advantage to free Brian Rooney for two scores in the last ten minutes. The Lions never gave up, but ultimately fell, 38-29.
On the Lions’ rally, Clancy explained, “In the second half, we threatened at the breakdown, kept the ball and controlled possession a bit more and made some tactical changes to fight back but it was too much to overcome... Obviously to win a second half 26-5 is mixed emotions, pride in the fight from the guys but disappointed that it took 40 minutes and a 30 point deficit to achieve that.”
Wareing gave the game balls to his Eagles who stepped up in the contest. “Our Eagles were really good, Dylan Fawsitt and Luke Hume were a step above. Connor Wallace-Sims pulled the strings and kicked really well and Alex Schwarz was a menace in defense and linked really well in attack. The man of the match would have to be Peni Tagavi. He broke the gain line every time in attack and stopped anyone in his channel from getting over it in defense.”
For Chicago, Dom Bailey earned the man of the match honors with an honorable mention to wing Brian Rooney with two tries and made a big impact off the bench. Clancy's overall takeaway was "it’s a great experience for our young team. There were a number of capped internationals and future MLR players our there for a high-quality game. You don’t get to be part of many of those and it was a good experience that will stand to them. It’s a down week now for us and then we have two Midwest fixtures left which we will be hoping to win out and secure top spot before the playoffs in the spring.”
This Elite Cup victory was a team win for Old Blue and a great end to an undefeated fall season. “I like the term holistic rugby,” Wareing said. “Everyone was contributing and everyone was a threat, we weren’t relying on just one or two players or just one area of attack but rather showed what we could do based on what the other teams do and take advantage of that.”
“It’s special,” Wareing concluded. “We have gone undefeated against the best teams in the country, we have got tighter as a whole club over the last few months, and to top off the season with hoisting the Elite Cup high is just rewards for the players hard work, for the coaching staff’s dedication and the management and foundations unbelievable support to allow us to play this game in the greatest city in the world.”