Written by Jackie Finlan    Sunday, 29 May 2011 20:23    PDF Print Write e-mail
NRU Takes Another NASC Title
Clubs - All-Stars

The Northeast did it again. The Nessies successfully defended its Women's All Star Championship Tier I title with a convincing 29-0 win over the Midwest in the final, and did with a lean squad that varied greatly from last year's championship team.

NRU's Phaidra Knight on a breakaway.

But even though the Northeast was missing 12 of last year's players, there was little lost in the way of dominance. Veteran all stars like Jamie Burke, who was named MVP, Phaidra Knight, Amy Daniels, Kitt Wagner, Katy Dowty, Rebecca Brafman, Kristin Bonomo and Stacy Baker upped the performance of the newer players for a great winning weekend.

After watching the Midwest's 19-12 win over the Pacific Coast on Friday, the Northeast was expecting a physical contest and started its biggest lineup size wise. The team knew it had to play at a national-team standard and capitalize on any mistakes offered them.

The team responded accordingly and played the game that coach Richard Ashfield was looking for.

"In the first game [against Southern California], we played well at times and had some good individual performances," Ashfield said of Friday's 24-3 win. "We spoke a lot about improving our team game and they really unified today."

Physicality was the name of the game today, and the NRU let it pervade every aspect of play. Its scrum dominated, and if Ashfield could have awarded the entire front row the MVP honor, he would have. Rosie Meisner's expert jumping and handling solidified the lineouts, and flanker Kristin Bonomo was a workhorse around the pitch. In the backs, Amy Daniels stepped into flyhalf and set up center Rebecca Brafman for a number of rumbling runs past the gain line. And wing Jen Kuchar was outstanding on the day, punishing players who attempted to attack out wide.

Meisner accounted for the team's first two tries, which came after sustained forward phases down the pitch, and Knight, Bonomo and Dowty tacked on the second-half tries. Kath Ryan and Kuchar split the conversions.

The Northeast allowed only three points-against all weekend, a fantastic accomplishment. But one of the biggest positives of the weekend was the performances of its younger players, several of whom were groomed in the NRU U23 program, led by Tony Brown, and which is also enjoying back-to-back all-star championships. The joint success is a promising one, and sure to keep producing championship teams.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Sunday, 29 May 2011 19:48    PDF Print Write e-mail
MARFU Wins Tier II All Stars
Clubs - All-Stars

San Diego - Only two of the eight teams at the Women's All Star Championship were going to exit the weekend undefeated, and the Mid-Atlantic was happy that it could call itself one of them. Building on its 33-22 win over the West on Friday, the Sharks defeated the South in a tough 10-0 win for the Tier II crown and earned promotion into Tier I competition next years.

In his first all-star event since being promoted to the MARFU head coach position this spring, Bob Weir began his three-year term with two impressive wins, generated from a very young squad.

"That was the biggest surprise," Weir said. "We were dividing up for the rookie skits, and there were only five veterans and the rest were rookies. We're young as all get-out, and it's so satisfying as a coach to see these new players execute at this level."

MARFU knew it was in for a battle around the breakdown against South, which the Sharks had played and beat at DC Ruggerfest in late April. MARFU was able to continually tackle behind the gainline and frustrate the South offense.

"The South was really strong, but we shut the door on them and held the line," Weir said. "It was all about effort, defense and passion."

MARFU scored on either side of the break, the first coming from a wheeled scrum that built into a controlled, spinning attack down the weakside. The South couldn't contain the forward waterfall and hooker Rachel Primo dotted down the corner try.

The South kicked it up a notch in the second half, really pressuring the MARFU defense for the opening 10 minutes. Weir was very pleased that his players responded in turn, from 1 to 15.

"We stressed that everyone had to ruck, everyone had to catch-and-pass," Weir explained. "We wanted complete players."

The Sharks' final score came in the closing minutes of the match, as scrumhalf Eli White continually punished the South forwards for any mistake. She opened up enough space for fullback Meredith McAlister to get through the line and dot down the second try of the game, 10-0.

Weir was particularly impressed by No. 8 Laura Miller, who was scrum captain on Friday, and flyhalf Sam Pankey, both of whom made great decision on the field and led with powerful defense.

MARFU showed its great depth this weekend, especially considering the absence of notable NOVA players like 7s Eagles Lauren Hoeck, CJ Hildreth and Beth Black, but the performance was good enough to earn them a return to Tier I competition next year.

Sunday, 29 May 2011 11:28    PDF Print Write e-mail
More Losses for USA 7s Team
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

Ian Muir photos

The USA 7s team ended their HSBC Sevens World Series campaign with a discouraging eight-game losing streak, finishing the streak off Sunday in Edinburgh with two close losses.

The Eagles were taken down 17-15 by Kenya in the Bowl Quarterfinals, in a game where they finally, at least, took an early lead. Shalom Suniula’s try barely 30 seconds into the game put the USA up. But Kenya struck back twice in the first half and led 12-5 at the break.

The Eagles were patient with the ball in the second half and tied the game 12-12 when Zack Test, back from injury, scored. And it was Test once again two minutes later for the 15-12 lead.

But it wasn’t enough. Kenya held onto the ball well and kept up the attack. With Paul Emerick in the sin bin,  Lavina Asego scored to make it 17-15 and take the victory.

On to the Shield semifinals against Russia, and after giving up an early try, the Eagles scored through Nese Malifa and, after a long sequence, Paul Emerick to make it 12-7 USA at halftime.

But once again it’s been difficult for the Eagles to retain possession consistently and two tries from Nikolay Zaporzhin got the victory for the Russians 17-12.

The USA is the only core team not full-time, and many non-core teams are full-time or close to it. The difference in regular training time showed itself in stark relief this weekend, where the Eagles lost all five games, but three of those (against Fiji, Kenya and Russia) by only a try, and one other (Samoa) by a mere  nine points. Time together, and consistency of selections, along with warmup tournaments that have not materialized, could all, anyone can argue, have made a difference.

As it is, the good new is that Kenya defeated Scotland for the Bowl. What that did was ensure the USA stayed in the Top 12, and therefore will be a core team for 2011-2012. The question remains whether they will be able to train like it.

Sunday, 29 May 2011 17:58    PDF Print Write e-mail
U20s Rue Giveaways
National Teams - Age-Grade Men

P Crane photoThe USA U20s showed they can score from pretty much anywhere during their five-try loss against Russia Saturday.

But their problem was, they had to score from anywhere. Russia played most of the game in the USA end, and that, in the end, was the difference. Both teams scored five tries and converted four. Russia got two more penalty kicks that the Eagles because of that pressure.

“The important part was how we ended up in our own territory,” explained USA U20 Head Coach Scott Lawrence. “Eleven of our 21 turnovers came from restarts or set pieces. When you play at this level there are critical elements of the game you have to get right. You need to win your own kick, win your own scrum ball, and when there’s an uncontested lineout ball, you need to jump up and catch it.”

That the U20s did not do, and coupled with poor defense around the fringes of the rugby caused problems for the Americans. The pillar defense, at times, just wasn’t there, and Russia was only too glad to pick-and-drive, or run a one-ball to a back or forward. Nothing fancy, just straight-ahead rugby, but the Eagles didn’t not stop it well enough.

“Our turnover attack was good,” said Lawrence. “We played a lot of scramble defense. But I don’t think the players came into camp with a clear understanding of the basics of interior defense. We gave up 16 lines breaks, and 14 of them were on the interior. I think that’s a pretty telling tale.”

Missed tackles, missed assignments, and players slow to their position all contributed.

So the evening after the Russia game, Lawrence had a come to Jesus meeting with the players, pointing out that Uruguay won’t be all that different. The USA has shown they are athletic and exciting with the ball. It’s what they do without the ball that needs help.

“The thing about these sides we play is that a lot of them are from just two or three clubs and spend an enormous amount of time together,” said Lawrence. “As a result they have a lot of continuity. They commit numbers to the tackle contest, they get to the breakdown, and they wear you down. We know how Uruguay is going to attack. It will be a good challenge for us.”

The USA team has an intense couple of days training and studying film before facing Uruguay. Their coach wants them to learn these lessons, even when it’s tough to see.

“Some of these kids don’t understand yet that to be an international player it takes a 365-day commitment,” Lawrence said. “It’s this learning process that is as much the development of players as anything else.”

Written by Jackie Finlan    Saturday, 28 May 2011 01:00    PDF Print Write e-mail
Nessies Return to All Star Final
Clubs - All-Stars

The Northeast began its run back to the title match during yesterday's Women's All Star Championship, defeating Southern California 24-3 in the team's semifinal.

Kath Ryan during the NRU's win over SoCal.

But it wasn't all easy going for the Nessies, who took a 12-3 lead into the half.

"We were able to beat SoCal by putting together some good phase play with quick ball," NRU's Rebecca Brafman said, "but they were able to frustrate us by doing a good job getting some turnover ball when we were slow getting support to our rucks."

The team was missing 12 of last year's teammates and relied on the veteran leadership of players like Jamie Burke, Phaidra Knight and Kitt Wagner to solidify the team. Knight played a particularly strong game at flanker, both with ball in hand and on defense. Fullback Katy Dowty also did well to clean up linebreaks, corral loose kicks and build some nice counter-attacks. Wing Kath Ryan, Knight and Amy Daniels all scored tries for the eventual win.

Looking ahead to tomorrow's game against the Midwest, the Northeast has a few game points to address.

"We need to do a better job securing our rucks, making sure we get quick ball when we need it," Brafman said. "We have to dictate the pace of the game. Obviously the Midwest will bring a very physical aspect to the game, but we have a strong pack as well."

It'll be a nice match-up between the territorial teams tomorrow in the final. The Northeast, though only traveling with 19 players, has a quality lineup whose seven 15s Eagles and two 7s Eagles have been bolstered by young talent in players like Devin Keller, Rosie Miesner and former West player Jen Kuchar.

THe Midwest is missing some key players as well, including Christy Ringgenberg and Jill Potter, who is still recovering from injury in New Mexico. But the solid leadership provided by veterans Krisin Zdanzewicz, Lynelle Kugler, Pam Kosanke and former MARFU player Kate Daley promises an excellent championship match.


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