Milwaukee Harlequins advance to Midwest rugby finals in 27-16 victory over Black & White

Both teams started the game with a lot of energy, but the first scrumdown after Milwaukee RFC mishandled the kick off set the tone for the rest of the match. The Harlequins pack easily dominated this setpiece, and the sloppy conditions promised more dropped balls by both teams adding to our advantage. We continuously applied pressure and were eventually rewarded with a 5-meter scrum at Milwaukee's goalline. The Harlequins scrum marched relentlessly forward and 8-man, Jeff Hoffman, scored a well-deserved forward try at the 10 minute mark. Outside center, Dominic Kasten, converted to give the Harlequins the early 7-0 lead. Despite the clear forward advantage in scrums and lineouts, however, we had difficulty putting points on the board. Milwaukee stepped up their tenacious defense and this effort combined with our undisciplined penalties kept us out of the try zone for the next 57 minutes of the match.

Our run towards Nationals hit a bump in the road before the weekend began when last minute schedule changes moved our Saturday start time forward by 90 minutes. This forced us to leave even earlier than originally planned, only to discover upon arrival that all matches had been delayed by severe weather. After several impatient hours on the bus and lightning caused several more delays, Midwest appeared ready to cancel all remaining matches for the afternoon including ours. An unexpected break in the weather, however, allowed games to continue and we kicked off at 4:20 EST.

Milwaukee kept challenging the Harlequins with hard hits on defense, quick poaches in loose, and wide spread counter attacks off kicks. They slowly began pressuring the Harlequins and clawed their way back into the match with converted penalties at 19 and 24 minutes, respectively. While Kasten answered with a converted penalty at 26 minutes, bone crunching hits from both teams prevented either team to cross the other's goallne. The 1st half ended with the Harlequins holding a slim 4-point lead, 10-6.

The 2nd half began much like the first ended with neither team able to put points on the board. At the 49th minute, however, Milwaukee was able to bring their 7s game into play, swinging the ball around rapidly between their backs and loose forwards. The resulting unconverted try gave them the lead, 10-11, and galvanized their team despite the pounding their forwards were taking on set and loose pieces. After another long defensive series by both teams, Milwaukee built upon their lead with another unconverted try at the 63 minute of play and momentum appeared to have swung completely to their side of the field.

But appearances can be deceiving. Just four minutes later and after multiple phases of inside crashes amongst the forwards and backs, the backfield opened up for newly anointed inside center, Leon Kendricks, to touch down and Kasten to convert. The Harlequins regained the lead, 17-16, with 67 minutes gone and their renewed energy could be felt from the sideline. After another series of dominating forward play and solid defense, the Harlequins were awarded a 5-meter scrum at Milwaukee's goalline. The pack began their relentless march towards the goalline again but the drive was unexpectedly stopped when the scrum collapsed. Fortunately, the referee recognized the situation, penalized Milwaukee for collapsing the scrum, and awarded the Harlequins a penalty try. The try was converted by Kasten at the 73 minute mark to give the Harlequins the 24-16 lead.

Despite their 8-point deficit, Milwaukee played with heart battling to the bitter end. They continued to press and made several great territorial gains via their wide open play in the waning minutes of the match. Fortunately for the Harlequins, stubborn defensive play by all 15 players kept the men in Black and White out of our try zone. Another converted penalty from Kasten at the 77 minute selaed the match and ended the scoring, 27-16.