HRFC Men vs Wilkes-Berra RFC Fall 2013
Harrisburg Men’s Rugby Club won its third consecutive match in convincing fashion on Saturday, thereby creating a Tale of Two Seasons for the 2013 campaign. By beating a heavily favored Wilkes-Barre RFC side 27-8 (in Wilkes-Barre) in fine fashion, Harrisburg proved that their early season shortcomings have been erased.
From the outset, rugby gods were not smiling on Harrisburg as the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union referee assigned to officiate the match was a complete no-show. Attempts to locate him were unsuccessful until members of Wilkes-Barre mentioned the referee was a local whom they all knew. He had ties to their club and owned a drinking establishment nearby. Being “Octoberfest” season, the slackard was either unfit or unwilling to perform his duty. Because Wilkes-Barre is responsible for supplying a referee, the hosts offered up a member from their own club to officiate, a point which drew considerable ire from an already peeved, yet gentlemanly, Harrisburg side.
“Manning up” to the fortunes of the sport, Harrisburg agreed to complete, and play began in earnest.
Typical of most rugby matches, Saturday’s contest began with intense physical play, frequent smashing of the forwards, and mental mistakes. Both sides maintained a vigorous pace while weathering dropped balls or pointless penalties. Wilkes-Barre eventually cracked the Harrisburg defense, scoring a try mid-way through the first half. The conversion kick failed, but they quickly tacked on three more points after a Harrisburg penalty to lead 8-0.
It is in these moments on which entire seasons will rest. Trailing, complaining bitterly of rather questionable “homer” calls, Harrisburg desperately needed a spark. They would get that a much more.
Matt DiStefano, captain of Harrisburg’s side, in one brief instant, single handedly turned the tide in what would prove to be a monstrous, deliberate, and ceaseless demolition of the hosts. Following the successful penalty kick re-start, DiStefano sprinted forward, blocked a Wilkes-Barre kick attempt, scooped the ball, and raced to the try zone, cutting the lead to 8-5…all within seconds. Frankly, all 29 other rugger on the pitch stood a bit dumbfounded. Sadly for Wilkes-Barre, they would never regain the attack.
As it has done all season, Harrisburg found reliability in its back shell. Towards the end of the first half, strong forward running drew in multiple defenders, thereby creating an overload. Through a series of looping runs, Harrisburg managed to swing the ball wide, and rookie Ryan Shuey displayed his dazzling speed with 30 meter burst past the try line, giving the visitors a 10-8 lead directly before intermission.
Within minutes of opening the second half, Winger Eric Freer and OC John Scheidemann gashed Wilkes-Barre’s parameter defense with a 50+ meter run, whereby Freer made several Wilkes-Barre players look rather silly, leisurely touched the ball down to extend Harrisburg’s lead 17-8.
Sensing blood in the water, Harrisburg’s defense was superb. Led by Max Digilion and David Warrenfeltz, the hits came more frequently, rendering Wilkes-Barre’s pack game ineffective. Scrum half Scott Strelec treated his opposite number as his own personal whipping boy, sabotaging numerous scrum throws that put the ball on ground and immediately thwarted several backline plays. Wilkes-Barre eventually mustered several longer runs from their backs, but their overall team fitness could not offer support, and Harrisburg regained possession with each flurry.
Fullback Elliott Warrenfeltz made it 22-8 when fly half Reid Watts forced his opposite number to eat a stiff arm and then passed wide to perfectly timed fullback insert.
Freer’s second try came minutes later after textbook team rugby. Having halted several Wilkes-Barre forward attempts, Harrisburg’s Steve Crozier won the ball with hard rucking. Following two pack phases, Harrisburg swung the ball wide, through multiple sets of hands over a long distance, with Freer closing the distance (and the scoring) at 27-8.
While three consecutive wins is substantial, Harrisburg’s greatest accomplishment thus far has been remarkable improvements with each week. Fitness, skills, tackling, rucking, line outs, scrum downs, backline plays, kicking, counter kicking, and brutal hitting. Those factors will be put to the test in two weeks with a tough playoff contest vs. Northeast Philly.