Guilford traveled to the North Carolina tournament this weekend, hosted in nearby Danville, Virginia. With teams like UNC, NC State, ECU, Wake Forest, Elon, and Appalachian State in attendance, there was not even the possibility of an easy match. In their first game on Saturday, Guilford was pitted against Division 2 powerhouse East Carolina University.
Both teams took the field and ECU immediately began pressuring with their advantageous size and athleticism. Call it morning rust, nerves at playing much higher-level competition, or whatever you like; Guilford just could not get the ball rolling, or even really get the ball, in the first half. ECU effectively kicked to the back three and rucked ferociously all half, scoring many unanswered points. However, Guilford did once again bring impressive conditioning to pitch, which has this fall season all but eliminated the need for substitutions due to fatigue, be it in a single match or tournament setting. ECU made some substitutions at the half and began to slow down. Finally finding some holes in a very solid team with a history of running up the score against opposition when possible, Guilford managed to keep their intensity and be much more competitive in the second half, scoring 15 points and corralling the Pirate offense to a much larger degree. A final score of 30-15 to the classy ECU side was encouraging, if anything, to a still young and developing Guilford Rugby.
Later in the same day Guilford clashed heads with Elon University for the second time this fall. Boasting a come-from-behind 18-14 victory at Elon in the rain some weeks previous, Guilford looked to prove that the win was no fluke. Throughout the game, however, this eagerness proved to hinder Guilford as the maroon and white ruggers racked up sloppy penalties, giving Elon more ball than was necessary and falling behind 12-5 relatively early on. More focus in the second half and great performances from rookie players made the game interesting, as Guilford rallied to even the score at 12-12. Another penalty reared its head, this time too close to the uprights, and a well-placed Elon kick put them up again and secured the ball back in Phoenix hands. With time dwindling, it appeared Guilford could not find a weakness to exploit, but very nice kicking for touch landed the boys deep in Elon territory for the final minutes. A thundering run from sophomore flanker Andrew Slater resulted in a clear try, to the elation of Guilford's visiting crowd, but was controversially overturned when the referee decided he had gotten in someones way. Heartbreak quickly turned to one extra minute of resolve, and Guilford fought viciously for the last inch, resulting in a repeated effort that could not be denied. Time expired almost directly after, leaving the score 19-15 to Guilford College. With the second hard-fought victory in as many games over Elon, 2008 USA Rugby South Semifinalists, Guilford Rugby proved that when they come to play, they are one of the best small college rugby squads in the Southeast.
Sunday morning saw a different team arrive to play a very tough Division 2 Appalachian State side. Fly-half David McKindley-Ward injured his elbow the day before and could not play. Scrum-half Max Kochinke took too many hard hits the day before, and Flanker Andrew Mancuso severely damaged his shoulder. Backs captain Chris Pugliese was forced to play with an injury that reaggravated itself immediately. To boot, whether from Saturday's festivities or Sunday obligations, so few players showed up that Guilford could only manage 17 versus App. in a game that would see more than half of those left playing out of position. Eight-man Matt Elverson played at Scrum-half, while flanker Andrew Slater took over #8. This left both flanking spots open to be filled by rookie lock Byron Myers and an injured but game Grayson Lyles. Winger Cody Martin took over at fly-half, with prop Abel Montes de Oca occupying the inside center slot. Regular #12 Evan Flanders moved position to the outside, completing the makeshift 9 to 13 chain that left running plays out of the question. Despite the disarray, Guilford should have managed something against the AHO team, but could not. There was no chemistry between the players, and a hard-rucking AHO pack dominated the loose ball almost completely. The very skilled Appalachian flyhalf kicked to his own team and to himself all game long, and the black-and-gold back line played tight defense while using uncommon speed to touch down points repeatedly. We would like to have given App. a game, but they took this one 29-0.
In all, Guilford Rugby took away a heavy amount of experience playing excellent opposition. The team improved greatly and learned a great deal about dedication on and off the field. The losses were perhaps good for the team, and showed a lot that can be worked on the rest of the season.
Match Report by Coach Hunter