Milwaukee rugby team advance to the Division II Midwest Final Four.

The team that Traveled to Clinton, IA had faced many obstacles over the last three games;

  • Injuries to key players
  • A poor performance against Lincoln Park RFC
  • An emotional loss to Milwaukee RFC Black and White
  • The ‘must-win-on-the-road-and-get-a-bonus-point-to-make-the-playoffs’ pressure of the final league match vs. Woodsmen RFC
  • Last minute injury and a family emergency caused the loss of two more players for the Woodsmen match

Despite this, one thing remained: the teams’ confidence in each individual player and their ability to play cohesive, intelligent rugby. As a result, the club reached a milestone – advancing beyond the first round of the Midwest Division II playoffs.

The game began as expected. A tight forward pack encounter, a style that Clinton is well known for and have used successfully in the past. It was apparent that Clinton expected us to attack through our centers and their inside defense was coming up extremely fast. What Clinton may not have been so prepared for was the strength and intensity of our forward pack at scrums and lineouts.

The Harlequins were first on the board with an unconverted try by Dom Singleton (5-0). This was quickly followed by a successful penalty kick by Dom Kasten (8-0). Dom’s Kicking ability has been a key weapon to the team all year and today was no exception.

An eight-point spread appeared to motivate by Clinton who successfully launched their forward game resulting in an unconverted try (8-5). The Harlequins advanced into the Clinton half and came away with another 3 points off of Dom Kasten’s boot (11-5). Clinton continued applying pressure and testing the Harlequins defense inside their 22 . Here, Clinton received a penalty and Aaron Young left the pitch with a yellow-card.

Clinton took advantage and scored their second try and the lead 11-12. Eric Steinman came on to replace Aaron in the front row. The Clinton fans now were howling for full blood to drive home the advantage of the extra man. After nine minutes of excellent defensive play by the Harlequins, Clinton finally were able to take advantage of the extra man and scored an unconverted try to go to the break leading 11-17.

At half-time, every one recognized that Clinton was feeling the effects of the last hard fought 40 minutes of rugby and all that was needed was controlled play and some small adjustments in decision making. This game was far from over.

Clinton looked to reestablish a forward pick-and-go game but did not receive much for their efforts. In contrast, the amount of pressure and success our forwards were having in the scrums were reaping rewards around the field and our backs were finding more and larger gaps in the Clinton defense.

After more pressure inside Clinton’s 22-metre line, the Harlequins inched closer to the lead with a successful penalty kick by Kasten (14-17). Continued pressure resulted in an excellent individual run by Dom Singleton, and a converted try and the lead (21-17).

Clinton still had a say in the game and grinding down the field broke the Harlequins defense to retake the lead 21-22. A factor to the success of the Harlequins pack was the depth of talent we have in the front row, with 4 front row players on the field (Craig Matson filling in at the centers) we still had three more players in reserve: Mike Hoffenburg, Eric Steinman & JP Koliber. Each player had legitimate claims to be in the starting line up. With out this depth and each of these players’ contributions we would not have made it this far. As a coach it is a luxury to have so much talent to choose from and each could have replaced Joseph Koliber when he left the pitch.

The Spring season and the Fall matches had prepared the team for the situation at hand, going into the last 20 minutes of a match down by one point. What do we do? What changes to make? None was the answer. The ‘sweat equity’ the team had invested on defense and the tireless pressure the scrum was applying was bearing fruit. The Clinton forwards were moving slower and holes were appearing in their defense. Holes the back line (lead by Mark Fine) took advantage of with Thomas Koliber going over in the corner for a converted try and the fourth and final lead change (28-22).

A controlled period of team play resulted with Mark Fine finishing off the scoring himself with a converted try and extending the lead to 35-22. The Harlequins then showed their depth and maturity. With a 13 point lead the team methodically controlled the ball and played high-percentage, safe rugby. They did not decrease the pressure in the scrums or at the breakdown and starved Clinton of possession. At the final whistle the Harlequins had manufactured an excellent win by playing Harlequin Rugby.

Now we have time to enjoy that success before preparing for the playoff games in the spring. Reflecting on the game on the enjoyable 3-hour drive out of Iowa, I wanted to make a special thank-you to Mike Hoffenburg, Eric Steinman and Chris Kenth. I mentioned earlier the depth we have in the front row, it has developed into a great competition for starting spots and each player has stepped up to the challenge. I am sorry I did not give you time or more time in the game, you all deserved it and is something on reflection I could and should have done.

Congratulations. You all deserve it. Lets all get together for a drink next weekend to celebrate the season and see Ben Smith off to Wales.

Mike Loader
Mike Loader
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