Plano 7/8 Rugby Suffers First Setback

Under perfect spring conditions, despite the forecast for severe weather, the Plano 7/8 Rugby Team lost their bid for a perfect season in the Celina Tournament, the third of four Texas Rugby Union sponsored youth tournaments, losing two of three hard fought games.  It was also disappointing that an Oklahoma based team, Yukon, pulled out of the tournament at the last minute due to a lack of numbers available to travel.  Despite this , the team remains optimistic in the pursuit of our primary goal of being the 2017 Middle School State Champions.

Plano vs. The Woodlands

James Laprocido winning a lineout against the Woodlands pack

James Laprocido winning a lineout against the Woodlands pack

Things started off well for the Plano XV as they came out pressuring the Woodlands team from the get go.  The defense kept the opponents on their heels as both the back line and loose forwards took away the Woodlands space on seemingly every attempt to recycle the ball.  The Plano back line, led by Bryce Chatfield, Josh Seligsohn, Aiden Walls, Merrick Moncure and James Knight,  were completely oppressing the Woodlands backfield.  At the same time, scrumhalf Bryce Tucker along with the loose forwards, let by flankers Josh "Frenchy" Goff, Saul Gerstenfeld and #8 James Laprocido, dogged the exchange between the Woodlands forwards and backs to limit their opportunities.

Frenchy & Bryce hounding the Woodlands scrumhalf

Frenchy & Bryce hounding the Woodlands scrumhalf

Unfortunately, the Predators were not able to take advantage of the opportunities that they were creating due to either mishandling, penalties or just bad luck.  Case in point, Bryce Chatfield dotted down what appeared to be a center post try.  However, it was deemed he stepped out on the back line despite the fact that the field was confusingly marked (the field was permanently marked for football, not rugby - only using corner cones, not lines, to delineate the back line of the pitch).  In fact, another error on the sideline stemming from the confusing markings resulted in a Woodlands try as the Plano tackler thought the runner had crossed the out of bounds mark and gave up pursuit.  The Woodlands could not convert so the half ended with the Woodlands up 0 - 5.

Plano on the attack

Plano on the attack

In the second half, the Plano defense picked up where it left off with smothering defense.  This time, the team limited their mistakes and were able to capitalize.  James Knight bulled through the Woodlands defense for two tries while Bryce Chatfield was able to add another long try with the interception of an errant Woodlands pass.  Josh Seligsohn converted one.  As the final whistle blew, the Predators walked away with a convincing win 17 - 5.

Plano vs. Katy

In the second game of the tournament, the Plano team took the field against Katy in their first 7s match of the season.  For those unfamiliar with rugby, 7s is a version of rugby that has been adopted as the Olympic format.  It is fast-paced and, although the rules are the same, the game is played in a completely different fashion than 15s which is the focus of our program.  As for our opponent, they have a year round 7s program.  As a result, the Plano inexperience in 7s vs. a seasoned Katy 7s team showed as Katy was able to easily spread the Plano defense and dot down try after try.  The lone bright spot was Bryce Tucker taking a kick off all the way with a brilliant dummy to notch the lone Plano score.  It wasn't pretty as Katy walked away with the game 5 - 57.  

It is important to note that the four state sponsored tournaments are all 15s format.  As such, 7s play is accommodated (as we want to promote rugby and grow the game) but does not accrue towards a tournament victory.  In this regard, Katy did not emerge as the Tournament champ despite the fact that they were the sole undefeated team of the tourney.

Plano vs. Celina

Setting up the next phase

Setting up the next phase

In the final 15s match of the tournament, the Plano 7/8 were to play against North Texas rival and tournament host, the Celina North Texas Barbarians.  The Barbarians were able to pull of an upset of the Woodlands in a back and forth match that saw the Celina team come from behind in the final minutes of the game.  The Barbarians feature strong runners, especially their inside center and #8 who both run with a bruising style, and proficient rucking.  However, the Predator defense was up for the challenge.

Kicking to space

Kicking to space

In fhe first half, the Predators played strong multi-phase rugby with multiple breaks and quick rucks.  Captain James Knight was able to put down a try in the corner to get the Plano team on the board.  Knight missed the conversion.  Unfortunately, a couple of missed tackles on the Barbarian inside center, resulted in Celina going up with a converted try.  The Predators came right back as James Laprocido picked up a loose ball and burst through the Barbarian line for another uncoverted try.  At the end of the half, an exchange of kicks resulted in good field position for the the Barbarians whose center again bulled through the Plano backline for another converted try.  As the half ended, the Barbarians were up 10 - 14.

Covering deep

Covering deep

In the second half, the Plano team kept the pressure on.  Captain James Knight demonstrated why he a leader on the team by scoring two tries for a hat trick, one converted by Josh Seligsohn.  However, the Barbarian's kept pressuring.  With about ten minutes left in the match, several big tackles by David Hader, Rita Habib, Charlie Maretzky, Bryce Chatfield and James Laprocido thwarted several breaks the big Barbarian runners.  In the end, the Barbarians would not be denied as continue to rally, dotting down two tries, converting one.  As the whistle blew, the Barbarians had prevailed over the Predators 22 - 26.

Notes and Observations

We can make a lot of excuses for experiencing our first loss.  Certainly we had several key players out either due to injury or sickness, including the top two leading scorers Ty Neves and Jamerion Sanford.  We had never practiced 7s so far this season, with many players in the Katy game playing their first in that format.  However, what it boiled down to, in my opinion, was that we got away from basics on many fronts and, frankly, fitness.  Ball handling and passing were errant and the tackling was too high in some cases.  Further, many players were gassed - especially in the 7s match against Katy where we had to take the field immediately following our game against the Woodlands.  So, I think a re-focus on the basic in the coming weeks should go a long way in terms of getting us ready for a state championship run.

On the positive side, our scrums and lineouts have improved.  in the set pieces, we continue to win most of the lineouts while we were able to better compete in the scrums against the bigger packs.  Specifically Saul Gerstenfeld has consistently been able to connect with the jumpers to keep our retention in the lineouts while James Laprocido and David Hader have been able to take a good portion of the other teams' ball.  New players, like Gavin Moncure, Jacob Turner and Patrick Singleton, continue to improve, particularly in their scrum play.  Finally, Mia and Victoria Balderas continue to develop.  Both girls competed with the Katy Middle School team in the girls division with Mia scoring a try and making several big tackles, while sister Victoria made multiple breaks for the Katy team.

In the end, I think the Celina Tournament is a wake up call for the Plano 7/8s.  Having had a good run, practices have become somewhat more complacent and the sense of urgency has been lost.  The silver lining of this is that we have been served notice that the rest of the Texas Middle School rugby teams are not going to hand us the championship.  Hopefully we can use this experience to double down our efforts, execute better, put the time in to work out and improve our fitness level on the off days and become a more engaged student of the game in the coming weeks.