The record says the Colorado Springs U19 team lost a game Thursday, but sometimes a loss is also a win.
The Grizzlies’ 20-10 scoreline against top-ranked Highland was an impressive result, perhaps made all the more impressive because they held Highland scoreless in the second half.
“Colorado came with passion and heart,” said Highland Head Coach Larry Gelwix. “Highland Rugby did not. Our attitude was a bit lax and casual. We did not link together as a team. I was truly impressed with CS. Certainly the most physical and technically sound team we have played this year. I did not see any major flaws in their team or game plan. They came at us for 70 minutes.”
Colorado Springs Head Coach John Paterson was also pleased with the result, echoing Gelwix when he said “our guys gave their all. The guys played from the heart, and at halftime, when we were down 20-10, I told them not to drop their heads, to keep playing, and they did.”
Both teams perform a Haka before their matches, so the game started with an impressive Haka-off. About 2,000 attended the match, and were treated to a great game, that Highland won thanks to tries from Alai Motuapuaka, Jayce Hansen and Tevita Bloomfield and a conversion and a penalty from Kobi Harris.
Colorado Springs got a penalty from Nathan Fletcher and a try from Tyler Black that Fletcher converted.
Bloomfield’s try was the key one, as it took a 15-10 match to 20-10.
“In some ways the second half was more exciting rugby to watch as both teams moved the ball up and down the field with several impressive goal line defenses by both teams,” said Gelwix.
With less than a minute remaining, Colorado Springs moved the ball to within two meters of Highland’s line. The Colorado Springs forwards pounded at the threshold of a potential tying score, but Highland’s defensive line.
The Grizzlies finally did get in-goal, mauling it in. The maul went down, the Colorado Springs raised their hands in the air, but referee Joe Zevin ruled the ball not grounded, and whistled full time.
The players gathered together after the game for a barbecue and to socialize, Springs players pleased to see where they are in the national scheme of things, while Highland players were grateful for a stern test from a tough opponent.
The game, regardless of whether it could have been a tie or a Highland win, served notice that Colorado Springs knows how to play rugby. Does that mean that we may see a Highland v. Springs clash at the national championships? Not so fast. Colorado Springs and Rugby Colorado asked in February to be included in the West RFU playoffs. They were refused, with WRFU President Bill Sexton saying that Rugby Colorado and the Colorado Springs club had asked too late (four months before the West RFU U19 playoffs.
There remains some debate as to whether Rugby Colorado actually forwarded a request to be part of the West RFU playoffs before September. Regardless, the WRFU refused to make changes to their playoff setup in February.
The changes would have required changing the West brackets, and possibly then adding another team to the playoffs to keep things even.
In an email to Paterson, Sexton made it plain, however, that the issue isn’t changing playoffs, but a residual unhappiness with the fact that State-Based Rugby Organizations (SBROs) have been allowed to move out from under territorial union umbrellas.
“First, it is important to note that as a Level 3 SBRO, Rugby Colorado (and all teams and players) are no longer members of the West. For many years the West was repeatedly told by Rugby Colorado administration that their highest level of competition is the Colorado State Championship, and that they have no interest in participating in the West Boy's High School or U19 Championships. Thus, there is no provision to consider including teams from Colorado in the West Championships. This is exactly the same as Nebraska Youth Rugby and Rio Grande Youth Rugby - they choose not to participate. In contrast, Rugby Texas made it clear from the outset that they wished to participate in the West Championships as a pathway to Nationals. Their teams pay an pro-rated entry fee to participate, and we work with them effectively.”
In short, in the West, SBROs must pay to be in the playoffs.
Colorado Springs, arguably now the second-best U19 team in the nation, will not be in the National Championships to prove it. The West RFU is not expected to change its decision.