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Powered by timely tries and an on-point kicking game, No. 4 Saint Mary’s advances to the 2015 USA Rugby DI-A College 15s National Championships with a 48-32 victory over No. 7 Davenport in Moraga, Calif. Behind a total of seven tries, six kicks by inside center Dylan Audsley (five conversions and a PK), and a pressure defense, the Gaels will attempt to repeat as champions when they meet the No. 3 Life Running Eagles May 9 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta.
SMC got on the board first in the opening minutes with a penalty kick by Audsley. Minutes later, the Gaels kept pressuring on both sides of the ball, which led to fullback Cooper Maloney speeding down the sideline for the game's first try. Audsley converted for the 10-0 SMC advantage.
Davenport start to threaten, and a field position battle waged on with neither kicker able to find touch. After a well-covered pop kick by SMC and subsequent infractions, the Gaels had a five-meter penalty that they converted for a try. With 20 minutes expired, SMC held a 17-0 lead over Davenport.
Six minutes later, Davenport flyhalf JP Eloff would get the first points for the Panthers with a penalty kick after the Gaels were called for not rolling away. Davenport’s ball handling plagued its offense with miscommunication and errant passes. SMC took advantage, and from a 22 meter lineout, the ball was spun out wide then back to the middle where Audsley finished by breaking inside to beat two defenders for the try. With his third conversion, Audsley increased the lead to 24-3.
With two minutes left in the half, Daveneport’s best opportunity for a try came when it had a penalty inside SMC’s ten meters and the forwards pounding at the doorstep. The Panther hooker looked to have space but was stopped at the try line. SMC’s Maloney poached the ball and kicked it out to end the half.
Davenport opened the second half with the ball, but SMC stifled the offensive. At the 47th minute after a penalty the Gaels extended the lead to 31-3 when scrumhalf Holden Yungert broke the line and dove in for the try. After two penalties following the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers responded by taking a rolling maul in for the try from a five-meter lineout.
With the momentum, Davenport kept up the intensity and Eloff raced 40 meters up the middle. After the forwards took over for a few phases, hooker Gabe Sochanek hard stepped his defender and splashed in for the try. Eloff’s kick missed its target, but the Panthers had cut the lead to 31-13.
The jockeying for field position between the 22s continued as Davenport tried to exploit the lapses in the SMC defense. At about the 58th minute, the Gaels were in Panther territory and a runner from a maul caused a five-meter penalty. After a held ball in the try zone, the forwards moved the ball ahead, then flyhalf Kingsley McGowan got it out quickly to Charlie Loudon on the wing for the try. Audsley’s kick made the score, 38-13.
Davenport would not go silently as it focused on ball control and methodically gained ground with the forwards. Once inside the 22, the Panthers took a 10-meter lineout from the forwards out to the backs where wing Reece Czarnecki finished with the try.
The Panthers used the same strategy on the next possession, but the Gael defense poached the ball. On the immediate counterattack, SMC used an overload on the left sideline where Audsley sprinted almost 80 meters running through two defenders for the back-breaking try. The try-scorer missed his first conversion, but the Gaels widened their lead to 43-18.
Davenport would not give up, and the Panthers exemplified that by scoring twice in the final 10 minutes of the match. In the 74th minute after a 10-meter penalty, flanker Dominique Bailey scored following multiple forwards phases. The Panthers would score again on their next possession when reserve Thomas Devonce sliced through a gap in the Gael backline and carried 40 meters for the try. Eloff converted to make it an 11-point game, 43-32.
With about two minutes remaining, Panthers continued to press, but SMC’s McGowan punched the Gaels’ ticket to the Championship by recovering his own chip kick from 25 meters out for the try. After the missed conversion, the referee sounded the final whistle and SMC will return to the Finals with the 48-32 victory.