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Rugby descended upon the banks of the Severn Saturday as Navy hosted Lindenwood for a D1A Mid-South Conference showdown in Annapolis, Md. The fall weather made its presence known with cold temperatures and a stiff southeast wind. In a game littered by intense scrummaging and a litany of infractions, the team with the wind advantage seemed to have the upper hand. With the wind at their backs, Lindenwood recovered from the Midshipmen’s initial score to reel off two unanswered tries to lead 18-5 at the half. For the majority of the second half, the teams were locked in a stalemate until Navy strung together a scoring drive in the last ten minutes. Time ran out on the home squad and Lindenwood held on for the 18-12 victory.
“We played with the wind at our backs in the first half and we stayed down in their half the whole time,” Lions head coach Josh Macy said. “We were worried that they were going to do the same thing to us in the second half but our superior scrummaging just kept them in their half.”
“In the second half, the game really slowed down and they didn’t have a chance to get after us and use that wind. They had no way to move the ball downfield and didn’t have a lot of attacking ball...We did a good job with discipline overall and the guys just clocked in and played a lot of good solid defense.”
Navy head coach Gavin Hickie echoed that the weather conditions impacted the game. “The weather conditions had a pretty big factor in the game management today. To be fair, guys who have grown up overseas with the game since they were young will always have a deeper understanding of game management. It’s an on-going education for us here. Playing in those conditions and playing in the right areas of the pitch which we weren’t doing for some of the second half probably hurt us a little bit. When we finally got ourselves into those right conditions towards the end of the second half, we came away with points and won the half.”
The game couldn’t have started better for the Midshipmen as they took the opening kickoff downfield to score in the first five minutes. The forwards put in the heavy lifting and lock Phil Dalke dotted it down. Unfortunately, the conversion clanged off the upright and Navy led 5-0.
Lindenwood responded with a methodical attack and freshman fullback Evan William chipped in a pair of penalties to take the 6-5 advantage by the 20th minute. Five minutes later, the Lions struck gold as winger Samuel Chapman kicked ahead and outside center Ani Mteto dove on the loose ball in the endzone for the try. Williams’ conversion kissed the upright and the Lions led 13-5.
The Lions’ defense stifled any offense Navy could muster and in the 33rd minute, it was Mteto who set up another kick and chase score. The Iowa Central junior transfer booted the ball through and Cristian Rodriguez dribbled it forward before outracing the defender for the score. The points after were wide, but Lindenwood held the 18-5 lead at the half.
Even with the wind, Navy struggled to create offense in the second half. Lindenwood’s defense shut down the attack and limited the Midshipmen’s opportunities past midfield. As the game wore on, Navy began to equal the Lions’ effort in the scrum. Through intense effort and timely penalties, Navy worked its way downfield via phase play and flyhalf Pat Moore scored out wide in the 35th minute. Scrumhalf Cole Euverard made the conversion and Navy trailed by six with less than four minutes left.
The Midshipmen regained possession after the restart and moved the ball to midfield. Unfortunately, the penalty bug struck again and Lindenwood booted it into touch for the 18-12 win.
Macy has an incredibly talented group of players which includes a couple that have been capped with the USA Eagles. The Lions flew in prop Chance Wenglewski specifically for this game. Along with Joe Stewart and Stephen McLeish, Wenglewski anchored the Lindenwood front row and hopes he can us the experience gained to aid the development of the squad.
“Playing at the highest level with international play, we are training with the best in the world,” Wenglewski said. “Knowing what I can do coming back to my university and play with my boys is bring that aspect of the game back here and spread that fire within the scrum and work as a unit altogether.”
Tighthead prop Stewart earned Macy’s game ball for his efforts in the scrum. “Navy prides themselves on scrummaging and Joe is just a blue-collar kid from St. Charles, Mo. He has done a good job learning the game and he kept that scrum guessing. He gave a great platform when it could have gone really poorly for most teams.”
Lindenwood has one more weekend on the schedule before packing it in for the winter. “The fall for us is about building continuity, injecting new faces into the team, and onboarding those new players,” Macy finished. “We are OK that we are undercooked. Come springtime, everybody gets on campus and it’s nothing but full-fledged competitive rugby. We play in the best conference in America and there is no room for anything less.”
As for Navy, Hickie sees improvement from his program and hopeful for the spring. “A few months ago in the national championships, we lost to Cal by six points. This time last year we lost to Life by 30 points. Today we lost to Lindenwood by six points. The main takeaway is the challenge we set ourselves is achievable and the gap between us and the top teams of this country is closing.”