Men’s rugby holds off Southern Connecticut after strong start

By Daniel Malone

Dan Malone/Collegian

It took an extra week of grueling practices, but the Massachusetts men’s rugby team finally put together the start-to-finish performance it was looking for.

UMass followed up a tough loss last week to Middlebury with a 29-22 win over Southern Connecticut State on Saturday.

The Minutemen (1-1) understood the importance of getting out to a fast start against the strong Southern Connecticut squad.

“We knew Southern Connecticut was a physical team,” forwards captain Kyle Merrigan said. “They’re a team that likes to come out and smack you in the mouth early and we were ready to take it.”

UMass wasted no time in responding to the Owls’ (0-2) early physicality. It took a quick 7-0 lead after a Dean Nemeroff try and successful two-point conversion kick.

“I think we smacked them back pretty good,” Merrigan said.  “That’s why we were able to jump out to a lead.”

Southern Connecticut responded with a try of its own, but a shifty punt return for a score from Pat Michel and Zach Almond’s second try of the season built a 19-5 halftime lead for the Minutemen.

UMass tacked on an additional two scores in the second half with tries from Tim Porter and Nemeroff’s second score of the day.

From there, the Minutemen were forced to fend off a comeback from the Owls.

“We all knew what we had to do to come out and win,” Nemeroff said. “(The win) came from depth, we ran at them hard.”

Saturday’s win represented a marked improvement in execution for a young Minuteman squad still learning to play together, but the team knows that with youth comes inexperience.

“We have some younger guys on the team,” Merrigan said. “We’re a developing team.  We committed a few too many penalties in this game, which I think was a learning experience.”

Merrigan, who was replaced with 16 minutes left to play after a minor injury to his knee, acknowledged that after beginning the season with two home matches, going on the road for three consecutive weeks will be a challenge.

“We’ve had a great turnout for the games,” he said. “(Our fans have) been a huge help, but it’s going to be a little more difficult when (opposing fans) are cheering at different points of the game when you’re down.

“It gets you a bit down, but I don’t think it will affect our game at all. I think we’re going to be able to set up to the adversity and pull off a few more wins,” Merrigan said.

UMass will have its first crack at making good on Merrigan’s prediction this Saturday when the team travels to Parsons Field in Boston to take on Northeastern.

Daniel Malone can be reached at [email protected] .