MONTREAL, QC – The season opened on a high note for the 2011-12 Norwich University women's rugby squad this past weekend.
The Cadets won four of five matches en route to the championship at the Montreal Irish tournament. The highly-touted Cadets upended Bishop 48-0, Fredericton 15-5, and Prince Edward Isle 21-7 in pool play Saturday. In Sunday's finale against the host Irish, Norwich took a 12-10 win, reversing a 46-5 loss to their hosts in Saturday's final pool match.
In looking back at Sunday’s win over the host team, which propelled the Cadets to their first-ever title at the tournament, Coach Austin Hall came away impressed by his team’s defense.
“Never before in my coaching career, have I seen a team play better defense, inside its own 22, for a longer period of time,” Hall said. “The heart of our team was present in every tackle, every breakdown, and every second of focused play.”
Taking ownership of the ball from the opening whistle, the Irish marched down to the Cadets’ 5m line and began what would be a 45 minute campout in that area of the field. For 7 relentless minutes, Norwich stymied their attack, but ultimately a gap was found and the Irish led 5-0.
With their first chance to put the ball in the Irish half of the field, Norwich kicked long on the kick-off and eventually received a scrum outside the 22 after an Irish knock-on. A back option off the scrum moved the ball wide and then back inside to free All-American flanker Hannah Bushey with only one player to beat for the try. Bushey smashed her way through the Irish fullback to touch down between the posts. Sophomore center/wing Emily Derocher converted the score, giving Norwich a 7-5 lead with 16 minutes left in the half. Those 16 minutes were nothing but an onslaught of Irish attack, stopped over and over again by a solid and aggressive Norwich wall of defense.
Hopes of playing some attacking rugby were quickly destroyed when the Irish picked up where they left off in the first and marched right back into Cadet territory. Phase after phase of defensive awareness and team play continued to keep the Irish out of the try zone, until back-to-back penalties finally gifted the Irish a penalty try. The conversion was missed, but the Irish led 10-7 and had owned the ball and the territory for 90% of the match.
Once again, the Cadets kicked long and found themselves in unknown territory on the Irish side of the field. Clark put a grubber in behind the defense and the Norwich backfield raced on. Junior wing Emily Baugus touched down for the go ahead score on just the second Norwich attack of the day. Norwich held a 12-10 edge with 10 minutes to play after the Baugus conversion.
The final 10 minutes were, as expected, played inside the Norwich 22. The Cadet defense continued repelled everything that came at them. Sophomore flyhalf Joya Clark and senior flanker Marlene Dwyer provided a number of key tackles.
“We said that defense would win us this game, but we had no idea that it would require that much defense,” Hall said. “I am in awe of these players who battled through that match and never backed down to the physical Irish side.”
Team captain Katie Hathaway was selected as MVP of the tournament.
The Maroon and Gold's next match is slated for Saturday, Sept. 17, when they travel to Bryant College of Rhode Island. It's the team's North-East League opener.