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May 8, 2017

UM meets BU in NERFU Championship

The Massachusetts club rugby program has broken out of its losing ways, in the same way the Boston University program has. Both squads seek to triumph in the New England Rugby Football Union Championship (NERFU) as they go head-to-head this weekend in Middlebury, Vt.

The Minutemen have moved through to the semifinals after eliminating Bentley last Saturday, 17-12. Facing a 7-5 deficit at halftime and trailing 12-5 late in the second half, UMass played resiliently, clawing their way to a win.

This weekend, the Maroon and White hope to get on the board early and put the pressure on their opponent.

“We want to keep them off the board early and score early, putting them in a position they aren’t used to,” UMass coach Al Baker said.

The Minutemen have had success when getting out to an early lead, scoring first in each of their last four wins. Getting a head start on its opponent will help UMass, but at the same time, it hopes to have a steady dose of defense and scoring against the Terriers.

“Scoring first gives [the players] a margin of error,” said Baker. “It’s big, but they still have [a lot of time] to go.”

Adverse weather conditions, including a steady rain, slickened the field and made it hard for players to keep their footing, causing penalties. A sunny forecast for this weekend will bode well for the Minutemen who, according to Baker, are ready to play in any condition.

On Saturday, UMass will face second-seeded Boston University which had a regular season record of 4-1-1. It began its season blowing out Bentley College, 31-0 on its way to three-straight victories. Mid-way through their schedule though, the Terriers faced some adversity, registering a tie in a rematch against the Falcons, 21-21. BU then lost its following match to Maine, 19-13.

Coming into this season, the Terriers’ rugby program appeared to be on a steady decline, winning six games total in 2005-06 and one game in 2007-08. This is not unlike the Minutemen’s recent woes who had won three times in the five years leading up to this season.

BU advances to the semi-finals on the heels of a come-from-behind victory against seventh-seeded Norwich, 17-7. The Terriers’ quarterfinal match was strikingly similar to their counterpart’s in that they found themselves down, 7-5, at the half only to stymie the Cadets in the final 40 minutes. Much like UMass, which scored in its first of two game-winning tires, BU also managed to score its go-ahead points with a man-down.

The Terriers are performing well on both sides of the ball this year. During the regular season, BU tallied 32.8 points per game and allowed 14 points per game, a difference of 18.8 points, which is second only to the Minutemen, 25.9, in the NERFU.

Baker will be on the same field with a BU program that he knows very well. He held the reigns for the Terriers for eight seasons, from 1982-‘90, and led them to three NERFU Championships. After leaving BU, Baker coached for seven seasons at Harvard where the Terriers weren’t able to beat his team. The match will definitely produce a unique dynamic in Baker’s eyes but won’t influence the game.

“It’s always going to add something. They definitely would like to beat me,” said Baker. “It’s about the players. Both programs are working their way back from defeat. They’ll be more worried about the game, not the coach.”

This match will be followed by the other semifinal contest featuring Middlebury and Vermont. The winners of each semifinals match will meet for the New England Championship on Sunday.

Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s games, both teams will still compete in next weekend’s Northeast Regional Championships. The top four teams in the NERFU tournament all earned automatic bids to the tournament.

Daniel Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu

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