University of Connecticut Women win USA Rugby Women's Division I Fall Championship
In a tight match between two superb sides, The Huskies proved to have the edge thanks to great pack play and a phenomenal team performance.
Little separated the teams early, with neither really gaining much of an advantage. Connecticut used their flyhalf Nicole Sills to play a territory game against Air Force, kicking and keeping the Falcons in their own half.
Air Force failed to keep possession early, committing penalties and struggling in their set-pieces, and the Huskies pack play kept Air Force on the back foot. The Huskies also struggled to turn any of their territory or possession into scores, as their attack appeared frantic on occasions.
Alicia Alleyne made an impact early, with a big hit in defense, ultimately leading to an Air Force knock on. Air Force simply could not keep the ball as the Huskies attacked with great pace. In fact, it was nearly 15 minutes before the Falcons got any significant possession driving to the Connecticut 10-meter mark before being driving into touch.
Discipline was a major problem for Air Force, who kept themselves under pressure with penalty after penalty in their own half. After a UCONN maul was collapsed by Air Force 3 meters from the try line, Air Force second row Simone Duryea was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes for a professional foul. The Huskies elected to tap and go from the Air Force 5-meter mark, but they were held up. After the scrum couldn't get them a score, the Huskies swung it wide, but the ball was knocked on, with the game remaining scoreless.
The Huskies kept their centers involved using switches and inside lines off their fly half, but they could not find any space in the Falcon defensive line. The turnout from the Husky faithful was impressive, and their support willed on their side.
Husky fullback Sara Rothery looked dangerous throughout, breaking away before a brilliant tackle and steal from Air Force fullback Madeline Midas gave Air Force a lifeline. Repeatedly, Air Force held off UCONN attacks, regaining possession through great work over the ball by their back row forwards, who exemplified great work rate.
With 14 minutes to play, Air Force made serious inroads, but great work from Husky openside Rhea McFarland won them a penalty and allowed them to clear their lines. Air Force continued to give away penalties at the breakdown with the Huskies threatening, and they were clearly testing the official's patience.
Lively running from Connecticut right wing Devon Gold tested the Air Force tackling, and after Air Force gave away yet another penalty, the Huskies elected to go for posts. The kick sailed wide, but as Air Force attempted to run it out, they dropped the ball, and inside center Rachel Gomes was on hand to score an opportunistic score. Nicole Sills made no mistake with the difficult conversion, making the score 7-0 with 4 minutes to play in the half.
Simple errors plagued a talented Air Force side, with knock ons, penalties, and silly decisions costing them dearly. The Connecticut defense seemed unbreakable, and mental lapses eliminated every Air Force attacking chance. Excellent kicking from Nicole Sills bailed out the Huskies time and time again, but Air Force continued to apply pressure late in the half. As the half came to a close, Air force took a lineout 10 meters from the Husky line, but after some enterprising attack from the Falcons, they were held up over the line, and the half came to a close.
5 Minutes into the second half, UCONN were awarded an attacking scrum inside the Air Force 22, and flyhalf Nicole Sills took a brilliant line to slice through the Falcon defense and score under the posts. She was unable to convert her own try, but the damage was done, and UCONN's lead had been extended to 12-0.
The Huskies worked their way into the Air Force 22 yet again, and refused to allow Air Force to escape. The Falcons finally broke the gridlock by winning a counter ruck and repeated bug carries from hooker Yaira Diaz. This, coupled by several ill advised kicks from Sills, gifted Air Force possession deep in the UCONN half, and Air Force lock Jocelyn Fordyce forced her way over the line.
Air Force attacked again off the restart, running phase after phase, but the Connecticut defense fought tirelessly, driving the Falcons back before winning a penalty at the breakdown. Even still, the Huskies could not escape their half, and the momentum had now swung in favor of the Falcons, who went wide after an attacking scrum to score a great try and level the scores with 17 minutes to play. The conversion was missed, keeping the score tied.
UCONN responded with great enthusiasm, pinning Air Force in their own 22 yet again, and when one of the Falcons was carded for repeated infringements on the goal line, the Huskies took a quick tap and Amanda Lazarus crashed through to score their third try. Nicole Sills kicked the conversion with ease to make the score 19-12 in favor of the Huskies.
The Huskies again moved to pin Air Force deep, with a deft kick from Nicole Sills finding plenty of space behind the Falcons defensive line. Air Force fought to escape their half, but the Husky defense would not yield, and poor discipline continued to cost the Falcons dearly. The Falcons found a gap through their outside center Olufunmilayo Akinlosotu, but some excellent scramble defense from the Huskies stopped the Falcons, and a brilliant turnover allowed Nicole Sills to kick for touch.
An offside penalty with no time on the clock gave the Falcons one last chance, but they failed to capitalize, and a penalty to UCONN allowed them to kick to touch and end the match with the score at 19-12. Nicole Sills proved to be the difference maker for the Huskies, but it must be said that a dominant pack display allowed her to have the success that she had. Congratulations to the Huskies, who are your Division I Women's Rugby Fall Champions!