Rugby team advances to sweet sixteen
Edgar Ayala – Sports Editor
There were injured players, a field with dirt flying in the air and nothing but hard tackles, as Southern’s rugby team needed all 80 minutes to defeat York College of Pennsylvania.
In the first round of the 2016 USA Rugby Division II College National Championships, the SCSU Black Attack defeated the York Spartans 31-29 in a thrilling and gut checking second-half performance by Southern Connecticut.
“It just means so much for our program,” said Southern’s head rugby coach, John Marullo on the win. “We worked so hard to get to where we are. To come out here and get the win, be able to go to Sweet 16 and make an effort to win the national title – it just means a lot to everybody. The fans, our supporters and especially to the players.”
Southern did not score in the first half, and was trailing 17-0 at halftime. However, SCSU Black Attack managed to erase that deficit, and claw their way back to a 31-point second-half performance.
With the win, the rugby team advances to the Sweet 16 in the USA Rugby College National Championships.
“It’s huge,” said Mike Sullivan, team captain, “since we’ve been in this league for the past six years we have never done that. We’ve never made it to nationals and we’ve never been on this big of a stage. Now the whole country knows that we are a good rugby team – our name is out there.”
Seimou Smith scored three tries for Southern Connecticut, including the game-winning score that put them up by two with two minutes left in regulation. SCSU Black Attack’s Sean Grenier also added another two tries against York.
Smith gave credit to the conditioning the team does in practice, that helped them erase the 17-point deficit at halftime.
“It was hard,” said Smith. “At the end [of the first half] they scored their third try and everyone was getting down because we haven’t scored yet. Right off the back, I scored that first try [in the second half]. All right now we’re in business, now we’re rolling.”
And indeed Southern was rolling, as the team scored twice in the opening five minutes of the second half. Cutting their deficit to 17-12.
Yet, York kept battling back, as the Spartans returned the favor and scored two tries of their own. Putting York back on top 29-17.
“They’re a big team,” said Coach Marullo. “A bunch of brawlers, counter rucking, solid rugby team. It just came down to who could dig deeper, who had the heart – our guys dug deep and had it.”
SCSU’s rugby team closed the game when Smith and Grenier scored the last two tries, and the kicker added two more points to those initial tries.
“We’ve always been a second half team,” said Sullivan. “We go above and beyond in the second half. That’s when we start overpowering teams, counter rucking and start putting kids on the ground. We never gave up.”
Prior to the game, for the first time in program history, the SCSU Black Attack were conference champions. The men’s rugby team fought their way to a 7-1 record, winning the Rugby Northeast Conference.
And when Southern Connecticut met No. 22 nationally ranked York on Saturday, the team was ranked No. 19 in the nation, heading into the game.
Now the men’s rugby team shifts their focus to this weekend, where the team will travel to Furman University to play a Sweet 16 game against North Carolina State (No. 5 in the nation) on Nov. 19.
“Right now we’re 19 in the nation,” Smith said. “We want to be in the top 10, and that’s our goal. We want to go down [to North Carolina], and show them what the northeast has. We have good rugby up here, and it’s time for us to show it.”