Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UNT takes 1st at Southwest Conference XVs Tourney

Saturday, September 13 - Houston, TX

Southwest Collegiate Rugby Conference (SWC) rugby teams from Rice, Stephen F. Austin, Texas State, Texas A&M, the University of Houston, and the University of North Texas gathered on the Rice University campus for a season opening XVs tournament. The tournament's design assisted the coaches in blooding new players and ensuring all attendees obtained gametime before the season began. Twenty minute halves, rolling substitutes, and replacement players for card offenses ensured that each team accomplished these goals. While each club showed up with more than a full 23-man roster, Rice and A&M were impressive with 36 and 50 players, respectively

UNT made the most of their new coach Michael Englebrecht of the Junior All-American coaching staff and the long trip from Denton, though. UNT proved dominant through two halves against the Lumberjacks of SFA and the consecutive first half against Texas State. But, Texas State found the throttle in the second half against UNT and mounted a comeback. The Mean Green Machine could not get out of their own half of the pitch in that second half. A combination of Texas State's lack of an accurate kicker and the Eagles pressuring the Renegades at just the right moments prevented Texas State from mounting an effective comeback. UNT held off Texas State by a score of 24-15 to advance to the final match.

Texas A&M had numbers on the day, but the vast majority were new to rugby and A&M had only had one practice before the tournament. The Aggies woke up late in the match against UH after the Cougars had dotted down first. Then, Aggie veteran halfback Matt Theodore decided his team was in the wrong half of the field. His quick ball from a ruck resulted in a try by the Aggie Outside Center, followed quickly by a try from Scrum Center as 8-man and veteran Phillip Hansen ran weakside to committed defenders before putting away Theodore for the try at halftime. The Aggies would not relinquish the lead as they recorded a 24-12 win over UH.  Against Rice, A&M freshmen scrumhalf, Justin Brown, showed what he learned from this summer's run at the Stars and Stripes when he caught the Owls napping. Brown darted through an empty post at the edge of a breakdown to start the Aggie scoring. Flyhalf John Schell would add a try and wing Felix ___ would claim a brace from poorly handled passes out of Rice hands.

The Aggies and Mean Green met in a highly defensive battle that saw the Aggies on the board first with a penalty kick. The Aggies could not sustain their momentum, though. UNT pressured the inexperience in the set pieces and tackled relentlessly. A&M returned the favor by pressuring the Mean Green attack in a manner it had not yet met on the day. The halftime whistle blew with A&M up 3-0.

UNT came out strong in the second half and put the Aggies on the backfoot in their own half. With the defense bunched up, the Eagles' flyhalf - who had been steady in passing and decision-making all day -  whipped the ball outside to his wing who dashed for the corner flag to put UNT in-goal. No conversion was made from the extreme angle, but UNT had secured a lead. It was a lead they would not relinquish over the final ten minutes of back-and-forth rugby. UNT may have had very few answers for A&M's defensive questions, but the Aggies could not maintain possession at the breakdown enough to use possession effectively. UNT held out enough for the 5-3 win.

The rest of the SWC teams showed well. Texas State and Houston have plenty of size and pace, but need more organization on attack and discipline on running lines. SFA has some serious speed. The Lumberjacks have a wing that could give Mr. Isles a run. SFA needs more time together, because they have the potential to wreck a season. Rice is young and inexperienced, but they have a solid coaching staff. the question is whether they can turn the season around quick enough to make a difference in such a short time.

The SWC kicks off their season on October 4th with SFA at Texas St and Rice at Houston. UNT visits the Aggies on October 5th.

Scores for SWC XVs Tourney:
Houston 17-7 Rice
Texas St 7-5 SFA
A&M 24-12 Houston
UNT 22-0 SFA
A&M 24-0 Rice
UNT 26-15 Texas St

5th Place - SFA 40-5 Rice
3rd Place - Texas St 21-14 Houston
Championship - UNT 5-3 A&M

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