It was a spectacular day at the turf field north of the Wade King Rec Center on the WWU campus last Saturday. Bright sunshine, temps in the low 50’s, and little or now breeze. A perfect day for a rugby match.
Western knew they had their work cut out for them in their first match of the ‘Spring’ portion of the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference (NCRC) schedule. Their opponent, the University of Oregon Ducks, had already played two matches, winning both, one against Western Oregon, 22-17, and the other against arch-rival Oregon State, 34-19. Western, on the other hand, had not played since their November 23rd match against the UW Huskies in Seattle, where they lost 24-22. The coaches made some changes after that game moving Nick Bonovich (Dixon HS, Dixon CA) and Ryan Glendenning (North Thurston HS) out to the centers. Even though the Vikings had been training hard since their return to the practice field Saturday, January 4th, they were at a distinct disadvantage.
The match started out like the holiday break hadn’t hurt the Vikings that much. Western was controlling the match, especially the sets and line-outs, winning lots of ball and generally controlling the match from the beginning. There were some signs of rust but there didn’t appear to be any big gaps in their game. The Vikings were sorting out all their issues and it helped that the Viking forwards like Corey Kleppe (Burlington-Edison HS), Wiatt Vasey (Lynden HS), Louie Henson (Auburn HS), Nate Muir (Earl Marriott HS, Surrey, BC), and Spence Stevenson (Roosevelt HS) were taking care of business.
Oregon kept pressing but the Vikings pretty much kept them in their own end for the first five minutes and then a break-down on defense by the Vikings let an Oregon back get wide and take off down the field on a 60 yard run. The Duck runner was tackled about 15 yards out from the try line but excellent support by his teammates led to a try that put the Ducks up 5-0 after the missed conversion. The match continued with the Vikings unable to string together a coherent attack, just when you thought the Vikings would score, they’d make an error and have to start over. The rust was there…
Oregon was again able to capitalize on Viking mistakes in defense (poor tackling) and run in another 40 yard break to touch down, make the conversion, and move the score to 12-0, Ducks. Western got a score about five minutes later when eventual “Man of the Match”, Corey Kleppe, picked up a loose ball and took it in to make the score 12-5. The score would have been 12-7, but the referee, in one of many curious decisions on the day, waved off the touch judge’s signal of a good kick and didn’t award the conversion. And that is how the half ended. Oregon up on the Vikings, 12-5.
The second half started much the same as the first with Western still in control but the backs unable to generate much, if any, forward movement at all. The Vikings would generate lots of ball for backs but it was a rare instance when anything like a positive gain could be made. Oregon was a little better in attack in the second-half but not much. Their only score of the half came about twelve minutes in when the Ducks jumped on a Western drop-out from the 22 meter line. One of Oregon’s backs fielded the drop-kick forty-yards out near the sideline and proceeded to take the ball straight up the field and through at least five missed tackles to score in the corner. The unconverted try left the score in the Ducks favor, 17-5 with about twelve minutes gone in the 2nd half..
Western’s forwards dominated the Oregon pack in all phases of the game and continued to do so as the game wore on. And the Western backs looked like they finally might be figuring this out and were putting together some semblance of an attack. Western was able to make a nice series of moves and after a couple of phases were able to punch across another try with that man Kleppe to make the score 17-10. Flyhalf Nick Solimano‘s (The Bush School) conversion made it 17-12 with about fifteen minutes to play.
At the restart of play with the Oregon kick-off, the line-drive kick towards the sideline went maybe seven yards, maybe, and the ball was picked up by an Oregon player who continued down the field. Some of the Oregon and Western players pulled up, expecting the referee to stop play because the ball hadn’t gone the required ten yards. The referee’s whistle never came and by the time both sides recovered Oregon was deep into Viking territory. The Vikings recovered nicely however and were able to get the ball back into safe territory.
Western continued to push but promising attacks were kicked away by Western and the last fifteen minutes passed in frustrating fashion as Oregon was able to take its time and kick safely out of trouble and frustrate the Vikings. The good news as the final whistle went was that the Western forwards continued to improve and should have no problem in getting plenty of ball to work with, the Viking defense is excellent. The bad news is that the coaches and the team will have to figure out how to generate and sustain a consistent attack.
Remember this was their first match since November, it will happen. Maybe this next weekend when the Western Oregon University Wolves come to town.