GLENDALE, Colo. – The Austin Huns defeated longtime American rugby power New York Athletic Club, 27-23, Saturday to win their first USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men’s Division I National Championship in more than 40 years.
The second game of the Championship event at Infinity Park was the tightest in years, went down to the wire, and featured six capped Men’s Eagles. Young Hanco Germishuys, an Eagle and All-American at multiple levels, was named Most Valuable Player for his 80-minute performance.
“I’m speechless. It’s unreal for me,” the 20-year-old said of the individual accolade. “I couldn’t have done it without these guys; they’re my brothers.
“We put so much hard work in here, each and every one of these guys deserve all of this. Every guy in this team had a role. We were anxious but so pumped. Everyone did their job and it’s wonderful.”
NYAC fly half Harry Bennet made the most of his team’s time with the ball in the early stages of the first half, slotting kicks between the posts in the second minute and again in the 14th minute before Huns No. 10 Timothee Guillimin responded with a kick of his own midway through the half.
It was the team from Texas that broke the try line first. Wing Giovanni Bonilla had space to run inside his own half in the 26th minute and chipped the ball over the defense to chase. NYAC scrum half Justin Hundley beat the wing to it, but hooker Peter Malcolm placed himself out on the wing following his throw to receive the ball after Martin Knoetze’s run to the try line. The capped Eagle dotted down to give Austin a 10-6 lead.
Bennett opted to go for points five minutes from the halftime whistle despite match official Scott Green blowing the whistle for an infraction at NYAC’s 10. The kick did have the distance, but was just off target enough for an Austin 22-meter drop kick. The Huns won the ball back from the kick and decided to try for five – eventually seven – points with time winding down in the half as Green blew the whistle again. The maul drove forward from the set piece and Knoetze held his offload until he drew a defender for Deon Minnaar to score. Guillimin added the extras for a 17-6 halftime score line.
After having an early onslaught within Austin’s half turned away to a penalty turnover, NYAC stole a Huns lineout for full back Chris Mattina to dummy and score from 30 meters. The conversion brought the score to 17-13 before Bennett brought NYAC even closer at 17-16 with a 50th-minute penalty kick from a high tackle he drew on Joedee Reyes.
Most-capped Eagle Todd Clever graced the Infinity Park pitch as an Austin substitute 10 minutes into the second half, keeping hold of a loose pass with his first touch and blowing up a ruck a minute later. Germishuys powered through the NYAC defense throughout the game, and was especially effective in the second half as Austin looked to put the game out of reach. He drew a call in the 56th minute, though Guillimin was off target for his only missed kick through 80 minutes.
The fly half extended the lead by four points 12 minutes from time as NYAC struggled to get out of its own half, but the East Coast team stormed back in a big way with its next possession. Germishuys lost the ball forward in a dangerous position when Hundley’s kick was turned over, and substitute Gareth Gibbs scored in the corner. Bennett’s touch-line conversion was successful, as well, to give NYAC a late, 23-20, lead.
Both teams kept up the running rugby through the full-time whistle. Germishuys barreled over three defenders on his way to the 22 before a kick to the other side of the field was captured by NYAC. The Huns quickly took their opposition into touch, and Lomani Tongotongo broke the gain line to set up wing Sani Taylor for the match-winning try, 27-23.
“People are going to remember our name for years to come,” Germishuys said of the club he joined earlier in the season. “We are in this for a long time. They have to come at us strong if they want to take this trophy from our hands.”
Austin Huns | 27
Tries: Malcolm, Minnaar, Taylor
Conversions: Guillimin (3)
Penalties: Guillimin (2)
New York Athletic Club | 23
Tries: Mattina, Gibbs
Conversions: Bennett (2)
Penalties: Bennett (3)