Aspetuck Rugby Third In National Tournament
The Newtown-based Aspetuck Rugby Club placed third in the National Rugby Tournament, in Kansas City, Mo., in mid June. Results are as follows:
Aspetuck 31, Genesis of Utah 22: Seeded seventh in the tournament, Aspetuck brought the best combination of what it can do and took down the second-seeded Utah Genesis Rugby Club. Pearson Hill, playing fullback, was outstanding. He scored a try in which he beat eight tacklers. Big prop Matt Weiner crashed over for a couple and was able to score even when everyone expected it. Deft kicking by Brenden O’Neil and clutch tackling by Zach Reilly and Steven Leuci kept the pressure on.
Genesis didn’t like to kick, and instead chose to run the ball out of their 22 at every opportunity. It often worked. Genesis broke through for several long runs and three nicely taken tries. The center pairing of Willie Leota and Connor Grande was excellent and caused Aspetuck all sorts of problems.
But Hill made some key try-saving tackles, showing that Genesis wasn’t the only team with pace. This game was end-to-end. Genesis was behind 14-12 but scored to take the lead only to see Aspetuck come back. The two teams linked arms afterward and bowed to the fans — it was a fitting end of the evening and an exciting beginning of the tournament for Aspetuck.
Southern California Thunder 7, Aspetuck 0: In the opening minutes, Thunder Rugby scored on a pick-and-go. That was all very normal for the fifth-seeded team in the country. What wasn’t normal was the fact that there was no more scoring. Thunder recycled the ball nicely and that continuity denied Aspetuck attacking chances.
When on defense, the Thunder players got right up in the face of Aspetuck’s danger runners. Players who normally sliced and diced defenses found no room. Solomon Williams ran the Thunder motor well and Aspetuck couldn’t make the big breaking plays they were used to.
Thunder’s kicking game was also very effective, and Aspetuck, in the end, had only one good scoring chance. Aspetuck lost the ball forward in that chance, but as Aspetuck Head Coach Ray Weiner pointed out, had they scored, the kick would have been from the touchline, and quite possibly Aspetuck would still have been behind. It was a game on a knife edge all evening. This loss hurt Aspetuck morale, but the team rebounded well for the consolation game the following evening. The Thunder eventually went on to win the championship over the top-seeded Charlotte Tigers.
Aspetuck 18, Woodlands Texas Rugby 14: This was a fitting ending to Aspetuck’s season. Aspetuck got back to the style of play that brought it to the national championship to begin with and defeated the fifth-ranked Woodlands team. Fast breaks on the edge with the speedsters, and grinding hammer drives with the big men complimented with clutch tackling and spot kicks saw the Connecticut team jump out to a quick 13-0 lead and hold on to take third place. Pearson Hill got things started with a long breakaway run that took Aspetuck down to the try line. With a play that would become habit, Matt Weiner took the try, which would be his first of three. Weiner’s next score came off an amazing kick pass from Brenden O’Neil to Dougie Brown that took Aspetuck down to the try line again.
Woodlands did not go away, however, scoring on two quick drives that brought the score to 18-14. Aspetuck would not be denied, and the long year of playing strong competition helped Aspetuck steady the ship and play a smothering defense and run the clock out. Aspetuck looks to be primed to return to the nationals next year with a number of star players on board.