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Why Iona's Win Is Worth a Look

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Why Iona's Win Is Worth a Look

In November of 2013, St. Bonaventure defeated Iona 90-5 in an Empire Conference league game.

Ten months later the tables were turned to the tune of 97 points, as Iona beat Bonnies 36-24. What in the world could have produced such a turnaround. Now, it’s worth noting that Saturday’s game was a non-conference game, because Iona has moved to Rugby East. It’s not even a non-conference game that counts in the ACRC seedings, as that game will happen later on in the fall.

So St. Bonaventure could be forgiven for not running out their total, complete, a-number-on 1st 15. Bonnies might have been forgiven for tang the game a bit lightly, also. And, while Iona had their buildup problems (a broken down bus meant they arrived in town at 4am), the St. Bonavanture team spent Saturday morning at a memorial service for Rob Peraza, a former Bonnies rugby player who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A moving morning, no doubt, and also perhaps not the way to fire up a team.

Still and all, with those factors acknowledged, and with the understanding that Iona led 24-0 at halftime and then saw St. Bonavanture mount something of a comeback after making some adjustments, Iona had made huge strides. How?

Well, obviously there’s a new coach in town. Bruce McLane, known well to the editor of this site as he is co-host on the RuggaMatrix America show, knows what he’s about as a coach. It’s not that he folds in fancy plays, or has recruited some track stars or anything - his approach is rooted in basic America club and college rugby. He knows what he has to work with, and works with it. So, fancy plays out, hard-nosed defense in. Move the players around to use their talents, and make sure you do the basics right - win your scrums, because on wet ground in the Northeast, you’re going to have a lot of scrums. Win your lineouts. Work hard - really hard - and get in shape. Play with intensity.

McLane had his friend and former coaching colleague Mike Tolkin in this past week to work with the Iona players. What did they work on? Defense.

“We knew we could win this game,” said Iona’s Mike Marino. “We knew we would take it to them, and that we wanted it. What we felt going into that game was excitement.”

Iona set up camp in the St. Bonaventure 22 and dared Bonnies to get out. They couldn’t. Turnovers, pressure defense, and aggression secured the Gaels four tries by halftime.

“We saw our plan was working,” said Marino. “We kicked open the front door and kept coming in.”

And when St. Bonavanture came back, scoring three tries to Iona’s one in the second half, the Gaels were able to produce the death knell to put the game away. Bonnies scored late, but they had too far to go then.

McLane is also not afraid to start freshmen, and they have produced for him. Scrumhalf John Strehle was impressive on Saturday, and fullback wing Michael Marro played well also. In fact, saying Marro played well is something of an understatement. The diminutive first-year was given the task of shadowing St. Bonavanture’s big wing, and he did it all day long. Left alone to play D out wide, he made tackle after tackle - simply because that was the game plan, and that was the job he was given.

“He took their guy down every time,” said Marino.

In the end, added Marino, “we were focussed.” In a game that ultimately didn’t mean much, but was fun to watch, Iona did something big. They showed us, and themselves, that they can turn last year’s results around. They did it not because they suddenly landed some superhuman athletes; not because they have a trick play up their sleeve; not because they got lucky. They did it because they took the game down to the bare bones, made sure their bones are strong, and kept making their tackles. That kind of rugby works most of the time.