GLENDALE, Colo. – In a USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men’s Division III Club National Championship Final featuring four yellow cards and two Television Match Official reviews at Infinity Park, St. Louis Royals finessed their way to the title with a 29-19 defeat of Bremer County Bucks.
Full back Stephen Duff, one of four try-scorers for St. Louis, was named Most Valuable Player in a valiant effort on both sides of the ball, acting as one of the last lines of defense as the Bucks surged in the second half.
“This year we really pushed through to make the Royals a better team,” the MVP said post-match. “We worked harder on fitness, strategy; everything. Before we knew it we were flying every game.
“[Bremer County runs] hard. They’re beasts. We’ve played teams throughout the year that couldn’t make the tackles out wide, but they made their tackles and had the same speed. We let them back in but stuck to our systems, and it worked out for us in the end.”
It was all St. Louis in the opening stages of the match, with Tadhg Leader running the show from the fly half position. Though the ball came out of a tackle on the man wearing No. 15 in the fourth minute, Bremer County failed to put a meaningful clearance into touch, and Leader gave Daniel McGee an inside ball for the flanker to provide the final try-scoring assist to Ty Turner. Leader converted the sixth-minute try, 7-0.
The Bucks were gifted an attacking lineout from the restart but turned over possession with a knock in the first phase. Center Casey Hansen fended two Royals with a kick return down the touch line a minute later, but Bremer County put itself in a hole after its lineout was not thrown straight. Scrum half Eric Whitcome charged into Leader late as the St. Louis man was attempting a clearance kick, and the match official had no choice but to show him a yellow card.
Again unable to put a strong boot to the ball, the Bucks gave the Royals an attacking platform straight away, and simple passing led to a great line from Rory Cunningham to draw a high tackle. Leader took the points on offer for a 10-0 lead with more than 75 percent of the sinning still on the clock.
Bremer County’s 17th-minute restart did not travel 10 meters, and St. Louis found an overlap easy on the wing with Cunningham freeing Jason Schulte at the 22 for the 15-0 advantage. Those would be the final points conceded by Bremer County in the half, which began to grow into the game feeling disadvantaged. The Bucks did well to pressure St. Louis scrum half Danny Grzeskowiak all game long, too.
Unfortunately for the Bucks, the match official’s warning regarding high tackles put No. 8 Jeremy Newman in a tough position when he was asked to stop Michael Compton from charging down the touch line. Getting his arms above the shoulders, the Buck was sent to the bin just a few minutes after Whitcome was let loose.
Methodic forward strikes helped Bremer County kill off their second disadvantage of the half, and even led to a man-down try in the 30th minute. Ill-discipline from St. Louis in its defensive half put the Bucks in fine position in front of the posts, and Whitcome sneakily took a tap over the line for his team’s first try, 15-7.
Full back Russell Randall struggled with kicking – be it at the restart or from the tee – and missed a three-point kick from in front in the 37th minute. As Bremer County had earlier in the half, St. Louis required a verbal warning for dangerous tackles, and eventually watched Morgan Findlay trot to the sin bin for a yellow card offense on the stroke of halftime. Bremer County had a late scoring attempt cut short to a knock, and the Royals brought the frame to an end.
St. Louis started the second half much like the first, and was turned away from an initial try-scoring opportunity as the Bucks held up Cunningham at the try line in the 44th minute. The Bucks could not take advantage of the yellow card, and conceded an even-strength try to Leader after the fly half dummied at the gain line near the 22 and cut through the defense, 22-7.
Duff ran in his side’s fourth try a few minutes later after Cunningham drew an extra defender at midfield, and Leader nailed the touch-line conversion for an untouchable, 29-7, lead.
The Bucks appeared to have more in the tank despite using several reserves in the first half, and put a penalty-heavy Royals team under pressure with a 61st minute try from another five-meter tap. It took a review but the match official awarded the try to Grant Steffen, and Bremer County had the perfect opportunity to close the gap further at 29-14 when St. Louis reserve Michael Fitzgerald was sent to the bin five minutes later.
Big-bodied center Zach Behrends brought his side into the attacking half, only for the Royals to shore up their defensive discipline and turn possession around on Bremer County. Cunningham nearly dotted down in the corner in the 71st minute, with a review confirming the center’s knees hit the touch line before the ball was dotted down in-goal. Bremer County looked to return the ball 95 meters from the five-meter scrum, but lost the ball forward at its own 22.
The Royals slowed the game with set pieces as the Bucks let themselves down with handling errors, though Bremer County would finish the game with a Ryan Saunders try to bring the final score to 29-19.
St. Louis Royals | 29
Tries: Turner, Schulte, Leader, Duff
Conversions: Leader (3)
Discipline: Findlay (Yellow), Fitzgerald (Yellow)
Bremer County Bucks | 19
Tries: Whitcome, Steffen, Saunders
Discipline: Whitcome (Yellow), Newman (Yellow)