The Milwaukee Barbarians Division 3 side embarked on its first playoff match in the club’s young history as they traveled to St. Charles, Illinois yesterday to battle the Fox Valley Maoris.
Despite a strong week of training, it was clear the weather would play a big role in the flow of the game, especially early on where sloppy ball-handling kept the first-half score tight.
But after a few tough breaks, the Maoris pinned the visiting Barbarians deep in their own end, eventually leading to an early try for the hosts. After about 10 minutes, the Maoris converted the try to lead 7-0.
The middle of the first half was a lot more settled as the Barbarians went to work and spent long periods in opposition territory.
After a few missed opportunities, the Barbarians were finally rewarded for their efforts as Brian Klein punched through the line and scored directly under the posts.
The conversion by Steve Drobot leveled the scores at 7-7 with 15 minutes remaining in the half.
Both sides then went back and forth the remainder of the half with neither conceding any points.
The Barbarians however were dealt a blow when co-Captain and prop-forward Joseph Kloiber was sin binned for 10 minutes following a yellow card.
The Maoris took advantage of the 1-man deficit and attacked repeatedly at the goal line. But the Barbarian defense weathered the onslaught.
Then it was the Barbarians turn as the Fox Valley halfback was sent off. Again, a shorthanded defense rose to the challenge. As the half-time whistle blew, the score was still locked at seven-a-piece.
As the second half began, the Barbarians literally felt the wind (and rain) in their sails and used this to their advantage with probing kicks to the midfield. In addition, the Maoris received a second yellow-card!
With weather and circumstance on their side, the Barbarians started to show some real continuity in possession. After some great phase-play by the forwards, the backline sprang into life and a well-executed set play put co-Captain Jason Talbot through for the try.
Unable to convert, the Barbarians took their first lead with 30 minutes remaining.
But the Maoris were not yet done. A penalty kick for goal to the Maoris fell short but the swirling wind caused force an error by the Barbarians who were unable to secure possession and clear their lines.
Instead, the hosts regathered the ball and quickly got over the whitewash for a try. After the unsuccessful conversion and with 25 minutes to play, the scores were level at 12.
The remainder of the half favored the Barbarians for possession, territory and confidence. Even scrums were going well with the forwards winning several strikes on Maori put-ins.
However, the possession and territory did not lead to points and at the full-time whistle, the scores remained tied at 12.
As playoff a match, both teams had a short break before beginning two, 10-minute halves in overtime.
1st overtime half
In the first overtime half, things started out evenly for both sides.
But 5 minutes in, the Maoris put together another good try right, again under posts.
With an easy conversion kick, the hosts were up 19-12 and did well to run out the clock.
2nd overtime half
Without any break, the Barbarians kicked off the second overtime half. The Maoris did well to retain ball and drain the clock for several minutes.
But about 5 minutes in, the Barbarians found a seam in the defense when Ben Nirschl blitzed the backline on a 5-2 overload for the Maoris leading to an interception in the 10-12 channel.
With nothing but daylight and the longest 30 meters ever — Nirschl crossed over for a center-post try. The conversion by Sam Huschen split the uprights and once again the match was level with both teams at 19.
The Barbarians received the resulting kick-off, retained possession, drove deep into Maori territory and forced a penalty at the ruck.
The anticipation surrounding the subsequent penalty kick was palpable as Huschen stepped up for the kick 10 meters out and about 10 meters wide of the right post . Calm and collected, he nailed the kick to give the Barbarians the a 22-19 lead.
With a minute left in overtime, the Barbarians had likely hoped to hold onto the ball and wait out the clock.
But the Maoris stole the ball it in a ruck and took their last shot at the Milwaukee rugby backline.
But as they had for most of the day, the defense held and immediately stole possession back with Zach Price finding touch as the final whistle blew.
Final score: Milwaukee Barbarians Rugby 22 — 19 Fox Valley Maoris
The on-the-road victory over the top-seeded Southern conference leaders propels Milwaukee rugby to Round 2 of the playoffs.
The round 2 match will be a Wisconsin derby with the Barbarians getting a second chance at Green Bay, the only team they did not defeat in the regular season.
Green Bay will host the Barbarians on May 2 or May 9 (please check the club calendar for final details).