The New York Athletic Club defeated West Point 34-31 on a frigid Saturday at NYAC’s Travers Island pitch.
Both teams came into the game banged up. Army rested four starters as they finished off a spring break camp and readied for Kutztown University. NYAC had several prominent players on the sidelines. Eagle scrumhalf Mike Petri has a broken thumb, Eagle lock Brian Doyle was resting a mild shoulder injury, 2012 MVP James Denise was resting injured ribs, and No. 8 Heine McFarland was also not playing.
Still the game was a good test for the players who are there. Army’s lineup featured capped flyhalf Will Holder, who played extremely well, and two massive lock forwards in Aaron Retter and Morgan Cole.
NYAC’s backup scrumhalf was Justin Hundley, who stepped in ably despite not having played the position in years.
“I kind of knew I was going to be playing, so I needed to get ready,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “It worked out OK.”
And USA flyhalf Toby L’Estrange was back starting at #10.
Army drew first blood, as a couple of penalties by NYAC set up the Black Knights with a fairly straightforward penalty kick for Holder, and he had no trouble taking the three points.
After that, much of the first half belonged to the AC. They pressured off the restart and stole the ball in the ruck. Quick ball out wide didn’t fool Army and the Knights held firm on defense. But eventually a penalty to AC allowed them to pressure and send fullback Chris Chapman zipping into the corner.
It wasn’t long until the AC was in a similar position. With Conor Coyne throwing well and Seth Cohen a large body in the lineout, they set the maul again and took it over; Phil Rowe seemed to come up with the ball. L’Estrange was good with the tough conversion and NYAC led 12-3.
Fully aware that they scored most of their points from turnovers against BYU, NYAC was determined to create some tries this weekend. Some very good work from the entire team and some slick running and passing from L’Estrange put center Danny Grace into a gap and then he fed Chapman for the fullback's second to make it 17-3.
Army showed they maul, too, and punished AC with a lineout-and-drive capped off with Cole touching down. Holder kicked the conversion and that made It 17-10.
The first half ended with NYAC close to scoring another, but were just held out.
In the second half NYAC took a commanding lead as they a break from L’Estrange put them in the Army 22, and while West Point stole the ball, flanker Neil McMillan, who had a strong game, charged the ball down, gathered and took the five points. It should have been seven, but L’Estrange, who was not on song with his goalkicking, missed the conversion.
His attack work was good, though, and with the NYAC backs looking to expose Army’s interior backline defense, he did make a nice break and then after a ruck grubbered the ball through for Chapman to claim and notch his 3rd and NYAC’s 5th try.
However, live by the sword, and die by the sword. The offloads out of contact were working for the AC backs, except when they weren’t. Only bounced off a shoulder and Holder nabbed it and took it to the house for Army. AC answered with a methodical push downfield, and then from a scrum they put wing Kyle Granby just in at the corner.
One more turnover in open play set up a try for Army. West Point didn’t scored directly from the turnover, but a lineout set scrumhalf Aaron Bush free. He was stopped but Cole finished it off.
Once again the whistle for a half was blown with NYAC right on the tryline. Ultimately the two national team flyhalves had a significant influence on the match. Offensively and with his kicking for territory, L’Estrange was outstanding for NYAC, but his 2-6 effort on conversions was not good. Holder showed a little better defense, and a few good moments on offense. But his kicking was outstanding, and being 5-5 going for posts helped keep his team in the game.
NYAC’s big men through they could shove back Army, and were often high in contact as a result. Still, said Head Coach Bruce McLane, it was a good effort for a team missing some key players.
Hundley, who used to coach at Army, performed well ensuring quick ball for his teammates, and said “we really want to create some tries. I don’t know if we forced it; Army is a good team.”
“There are some good positives and negatives to take out of this going into inter-collegiate play,” said Army scrumhalf Bush. “NYAC did a good job of taking us out of our game. But we kept playing, and we know, if we’re down 20 or up 20 we need to keep working. I thought our forwards did a great job today.”
That they did, and certainly they didn’t back down from the challenge. NYAC scored six tries, and have to be happy with that and the fact they created them from a variety of platforms, but will want to look at the turnovers and penalties that helped Army score.
Tries: Chapman 3, Rowe, McMillan, Granby
Convs: L’Estrange 2
Tries: Cole 3, Holder
Convs: Holder 4
(Note - after film review the try-scorers for Army were changed. Morgan Cole scored three, not one, as previously reported.)