Illinois rugby ends fall season 2-4
November 2, 2015
Injury, inexperience and inconsistent defense were the story of the season for the Illinois men’s rugby team.
The Illini faced the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, marking the last game of their fall season. Illinois went into this game looking for a win, which would have secured them a spot in the Big Ten rugby third-place game. The win meant a lot to Michigan — the Wolverines need to win their remaining game to ensure a spot in the conference championship game.
The Illini lit the scoreboard first on a try by Matt Paolucci and conversion by Mario Lozano. Club president Rich Daniels said that scoring first is one the team’s goals every game, and he was proud that it was able to do so. Michigan answered with a try of its own by Chening Duker and conversion by Andry-tohy Rakotovololona.
“We came out strong,” Lozano said. “I told the guys before the game that the first 10 minutes were going to be very important.”
Rakotovololona put more points on the board for Michigan — scoring a try to put his team up 12-7 — and the Wolverines would end the half up by that score
“We had really stepped up and played the best half of rugby ever,” Daniels said.
Starting the second half, the Illini came out of the gates quickly. Mitchell Ciszewski scored a try for Illinois within the first minute of the half, tying the game up 12-12.
Michigan’s Zach Burns scored the first try of the half for the Wolverines shortly after Ciszewski’s try. Burns has was named the D1A Player of the Week for his play against Iowa the previous week.
The Wolverines’ offense were unstoppable for the last 25 minutes, scoring four more tries with three conversions to defeat the Illini 52-12.
“We came out strong in the second half,” Lozano said. “But once they started scoring it killed our momentum.”
In the second half Illinois suffered many injuries. Paolucci went out with a sprained elbow, Luis Corona left the game with a hyperextended knee and freshmen fly-half Joey Lincoln was knocked out of the game with a sprained ankle.
“After the injuries we lost heart,” Daniels said. “We were feeling down and weren’t making crucial tackles.”
The lack of motivation and focus is what Daniels said he contributes to the Wolverines excessive offensive scoring for the last 25 minutes of play.
“You could put it on conditioning or lack of experience,” Daniels said. “But it (the heart) needs to be there the full 80 minutes.”
Lozano agreed with his teammate and said that if they had played the full 80 minutes how they played the first half, the game could have had a different outcome. Lozano said he hopes that’s a lesson the younger players learned.
This upcoming week, the Illini are off and will wait to see how the remainder of the Big Ten teams finish their seasons. Depending on how different teams finish, Illinois could be playing for fifth or seventh place. Daniels said that with the team’s bonus points and record it should be sitting at a solid No. 5 in the conference.
As of now, it looks as if the Illini will get a second shot at Purdue, which according to Lozano would be a great redemption game to end the season.