ELON, N.C. – Spartan Rugby headed to Elon to play the native Phoenix Rugby on Friday, September 28, to the backdrop of a beautiful late summer evening. The game ended in a decisive victory for Elon. However, UNCG still found hard and gave up no ground easily. There are several important things to note for UNCG Rugby that made their performance more impressive than it was at first glance.
These impressive traits did not come in the first half, however. Elon scored five tries, converting only two of them, making the score 29-0. The Phoenix scrum was burning the Spartans to ashes, with a superior weight and technique that far outmatched UNCG’s. For the very same reason, the Spartan rucks were not strong either. Any ruck that was contested by Elon with their large forwards tended to end in a turnover for the Spartans. Neither team was particularly quick to react to the flow of the game. Oftentimes, they would end up bunched up around the ball.
At one point in the game, an Elon back tried to run forwards through his line after catching a Spartan kick, and he had to forcefully remove another Elon player from his path. Elon were, without a doubt, the bigger and stronger team in this matchup, and their size and power played to their advantage. For example, the final play before the game ended was a scrum at the Spartan 22 meter line. Elon simply drove over the Spartan put-in to the five meter line, where a back took the ball the rest of the way.
With the halftime whistle gone, the players went to their respective benches, where Coaches Steve Ackrish and Jacob Roberts gave the Spartans a pep talk and some much-needed direction. UNCG had started this game with only 14 players on the field, and the physical toll that takes on a team was beginning to show for UNCG. They were exhausted, and it was evident in their faces and in their posture.
Elon had a full team and a rich roster of subs to serve as replacements. This fact alone displays the attributes of a Spartan rugby player: He is tough, dedicated and unwavering in the face of seemingly unwinnable odds. That, too, was evident in their eyes, the sheer determination, aggression and passion for the game.
The second half of the game was a close fought ordeal for Elon. The Spartans’ halftime pep talk had a real effect on the effort level of the team. David McPhail, #15, made some phenomenal breakaway runs that were unfortunately cut down by roving Phoenix sweepers. In the rucks, UNCG showed their mettle by attempting to win them and turn the ball over. This happened rarely, and the Elon ruck play got more and more cheap.
The referee noticed this, and penalties for bridging, not rolling away and coming in from the side were handed out happily. Elon had fresh new players, and their physicality and newfound aggression should have made it a lot easier for the Phoenix line to steamroll through the much smaller Spartan line. However, this was not the case, and for the most part, the ball spent most of the time at around the 50 meter mark. For an entire ten minutes, the Elon team worked away at scoring a try, and their only solace came from a penalty kick. The kick was phenomenal, putting the Elon lineout right at the five meter mark. The Spartans played hard, but in the end, could not stop the tide. That try was the last play of the match, and the referee whistled the teams off the field.
UNCG Rugby’s next game will be at Western Carolina on Saturday.