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The Austin Blacks defeated the Cincinnati Wolfhounds in dramatic fashion 22-17 Sunday to win the Premier Division of the Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest.

Austin took just 21 players to the two-day event, but swept all three matches to take the title.

On Saturday, Austin defeated Miami 25-0 and the Tridents 49-0. Cincinnati also beat the Florida teams, and the two 2-0 teams decided to play just the one match on Sunday to decide the championship.

In the final, Austin lost a key performer as prop Mike Lowe clashed heads with another player and had to be taken off.

Chris Cronn came on at hooker and Mark Brewerton moved to loosehead for the rest of the match.

Cincinnati went up 3-0 through a penalty kick from Ryan Frentzel. But Austin replied quickly, when tighthead prop Joey Malanka burst through the defense for a try. It was a typical play for Malanka, who earned tournament MVP honors .

Up 5-3 Austin scored again with a crashball run by Blacks lock and captain Will Martin. Flyhalf Gonzo Sanchez converted to give Austin a 12-3 lead.

With time ticking down in the first half, Austin looked poised to score again from sustained pressure on the Wolfhounds goalline. But Cincinnati turned the tables on Austin, ripping the ball away and flyh-hacking it downfield. The rolling ball popped into the hands of wing Ryan Grote, who finished off the 100-meter counter-attack with a momentum-changing try. 12-10 Austin led at the break. 

“We were actually feeling pretty good, because we’d played 25 minutes of straight defense, and in the end were just down two points,” said Cincinnati Head Coach Nick Lauterbach.

The Wolfhounds rode that momentum in the second half, with No. 8 Petrus Swanepoel going over anjd Frentzel kicking the extras for the 17-12 Cincinnati lead.

But Austin again answered, scoring right after the restart when center Tane Jericevich ran in. Jericevich has joined Austin from Italian Serie A club Piacenza. The former Scotland U19 and Scotland 7s player made a huge impression with that game-tying try.

The score stayed that way for the next 20 minutes before Austin was awarded a scrum on the Wolfhounds five-meter line with time running out. Evergreen scrumhalf Rick Medina took the ball wide to the right and passed back inside to Martin, who was now playing No. 8. Martin bulled through for the try which sealed a dramatic 22-17 victory.

"It was an excellent match with both sides giving their all in the final,” said Austin Head Coach Lachlan Ferguson. “Hats off to Cincinnati. They are a great club and really pushed us all the way. The boys told me the Wolfhound guys played very tough and it was a pleasure to compete against them. Thanks also to Ft Lauderdale RFC who ran a great tournament."

Cincinnati coach Lauterbach wasn’t heartbroken with the loss.

“We came here with 40 players and entered a Premier team and an Open team; we won the Open Division and lost on the final play in the Premier final, so we did pretty well,” Lauterbach said. “For a club that hasn’t been playing through the winter, it was a good performance. We as coaches got to see everything we needed to see – players in different positions, different combinations – it was great. We were able to take a lot out of this and get ready for the rest of the season.”

Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest Final

Austin 22
Tries: Malanka, Jericevich, Martin 2
Convs: Sanchez

Cincinnati 17
Tries: Grote, Swanepoel
Convs: Frentzel 2
Pens: Frentzel