GREENVILLE, S.C. – Furman University represented its home support well in the 2016 USA Rugby Men’s Division II National Championship Final Sunday, but University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, won its second title in six years, 29-13.
The Paladins had beaten University of Minnesota, Duluth, in Saturday’s Semifinal at Furman University, ending the Fighting Penguins’ two-year run atop DII. The Warhawks won their first National Championship in four tries in the past three seasons, including a 2015 USA Rugby College Sevens National Championship defeat.
“We work hard all year and this is what hard work is all about – just getting here to the National Championship and showing what we got,” Whitewater full back and All-American Garrett Shibilski said. “Everyone just works hard all year; hitting the gym and the little things we do that finally paid off after a third year.”
Shibilski finished off a powerful back-line move from a seventh-minute scrum within 10 meters of the Furman try line to open the scoring. Center Levi Van Lanen kept a tight grip in contact in the middle of the field before offloading to No. 15, whose line turned around the defenders for a 7-0 lead.
Perhaps benefitting from the big-game experience, Whitewater looked to pile on the points in the ensuing minutes, but went up against a stern Paladin effort. The proverbial home team battered the Warhawks’ defense and won a 23rd-minute penalty to jump on the scoreboard at 7-3.
Whitewater’s class and efficiency at the set piece slowed Furman’s momentum, however, as wing Alec Treuthardt rounded the defense from a 36th-minute scrum and doubled his tally four minutes later to send the Warhawks into the break with a 17-3 lead.
Furman scored from its own scrum 10 minutes into the second half, securing the ball well on a slippery field before wing Branch Hunter spotted a gap to the inside and eluded six defenders for a 17-8 score line.
Furman prop Robbie Greco ended a series of crash balls on the Whitewater try line with a score in the 67th minute after Van Lanen had extended the Warhawks’ lead, and flanker Conor Bell capped off the match with a try by picking off a bobbled pass to score under the posts and bring the final score to 29-13.