UMass men’s rugby dominates UConn in season opener

By Kaitlin Corbett

The Massachusetts men’s rugby team started the 2015 season off strong, bulldozing past the University of Connecticut to win its season opener by a score of 54-10 on Saturday at home.

UMass jumped out to an early lead, scoring its first try within seven minutes of kick-off. It was Joe Gifford who gave UMass its first try, with Joe Jenkins’ conversion topping it off to give the Minutemen a 7-0 advantage.

UConn was quick to strike back with a three-point penalty kick to cut the Minutemen’s lead to four.

Jonathan Rossini would score the next try for the Minutemen at the 27-minute mark, and a well-executed lineout play yielded a try on the weak side by Joe Hastry, giving the Minutemen a dominant 17-3 lead.

Following Jenkins’ second conversion in three tries, the Minutemen went into the half leading the Huskies 19-3.

But it was the second half that saw the Minutemen’s offense dominate, as tries by Mike Ruther, Derek Wegener, Joe Jenkins, Jaleel Johnson and Thomas Thekaekara capped off a 54-10 win over the Huskies.

Jenkins, an exchange student from Brisbane, Australia, was right on target Saturday, going 7-for-8 on conversion attempts.

While the offense was explosive, the Minutemen’s defense was also impressive, keeping UConn at bay.

UConn rarely had possession inside the Minutemen’s half due to solid defense and well timed poaches by the forwards.

“We had a lot of good rucking and we played really good defense,” said Matt Crush, team captain and outside center.

“It was kind of slow at first but once we got the rucking taken care of, play just sped up and we got the ball out,” he said.

Rucking is when a team gains possession of the ball after a player is tackled.

UMass forwards dominated the scrum throughout the match, as the backs cut through the defense, allowing for multiple aggressive line-breaks by Crush.

Looking ahead, the men’s rugby team hopes to build on its first-game win and have a dominant season.

“We finished 4-3 last year, third place in the (East Coast Rugby Conference), so (this year) we’re trying to do better than that,” Crush said.

“I think (American International College) is at the top of our league and we’re coming for them,” he said.

AIC is the defending ECRC champion after going an undefeated 6-0 last season. UMass will square off against AIC on Oct. 30 at Ronald J. Abdow Field, in Springfield.

After Saturday’s matches, UMass, Fairfield University and AIC currently top the ECRC standings, all with one win apiece in conference play.

Meanwhile, the men’s rugby B-side team defeated UConn’s B-side by a score of 30-5, extending a three-season undefeated streak in conference play.

This weekend, the Minutemen take on the Northeastern Huskies in a match at home on Sept. 19.

Kaitlin Corbett can be reached at [email protected]