UC Davis men’s club rugby team wins National Championship, second time in two years
After claiming a pair of victories in the West Region’s Division 1AA Playoff in late April, the UC Davis men’s club rugby team was back to defend its 2015 title in the USA Rugby College 15s National Championship on Saturday afternoon at Saint Mary’s College of California. The Aggies did not disappoint, defeating Notre Dame College in a hard-fought contest with a score of 17-13.
In regional play, the Ags easily handled conference rival Sacramento State, 38-5, before taking down familiar postseason threat Arkansas, 32-15, to enter the title game with an undefeated record.
The damp mid-morning matchup, hosted less than 70 miles away, was flooded with Aggie fans eager to witness back-to-back Division 1AA titles.
However, the Falcons of Notre Dame College struck first and maintained possession for the majority of the beginning of the match, before scoring a 12th minute try at the hands of John Santiago. Although the conversion was unsuccessful, six minutes later, Notre Dame pushed the lead to 8-0 with a penalty goal.
Down eight points and battling the wet conditions of the Saint Mary’s pitch, the Ags faced some of their first true adversity in a season previously marked by blowouts and perfection.
With time running low in the first half, the Aggies managed to pin the Falcons within 10 meters of their try line. The Ags claimed possession in the ensuing lineout, opening the door for fourth-year biomedical engineering major and fly half Ryan Morgan to showcase his sheer athleticism as he chipped the ball over the defense line and secured his own kick with a head-first dive, cutting the deficit to 8-7 heading into the break.
“There was a defeated atmosphere going into the locker room down at halftime, but we knew we could rely on our athletes to make better moves,” said lock Ian McCaffrey, a fourth-year viticulture and enology major. “After the break, we capitalized on their mistakes and were able to get points from them.”
The Aggies, who finished the first half of the 2015 championship game down 12 points, remained calm as they entered the second half without the lead. During the 50th minute, fourth-year sociology major and captain Joshua Farnsworth provided a much-needed spark off a kick from fourth-year computer science major Nial Smith from the Notre Dame 22 to give the Ags a 12-8 advantage. The Falcons again reclaimed the lead, however, on a 90-meter try in the 64th minute, after a 60-meter run by Logan Weinstock followed by Zach Forro shedding three tackles to finish the job.
With 10 minutes remaining in the match, and a back-to-back championship on the line, the Aggies looked to first-year plant science major Guilherme Maia Silva, who side-stepped his defender and secured the try, giving the Aggies the 17-13 lead they would hold for the championship.
Starting winger Bryce Ackerman, a third-year biochemistry and molecular biology major (described by McCaffrey as faster than the European speed of light) said, “When you go out on the field, you don’t play for yourself, you don’t think about yourself for a second. My body was in pieces but every second I gave was for my boys out there.”
Along with the distinction of 2016 USA Rugby College 15s National Champions, McCaffrey took home the title of the Most Valuable Player of the final.
Captain Jacob Phan, a fourth-year psychology major, described the sense of camaraderie he witnessed on the field.
“I don’t want to throw this word around but: dynasty,” Phan said. “I don’t use that word lightly, and I know I keep saying it, but it’s a dynasty. It’s just a word that really says it all. Dynasty.”
Written by: George McConnell — firstname.lastname@example.org