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Lindenwood Wins Women's D1 Elite Final in Clash of Titans

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Lindenwood Wins Women's D1 Elite Final in Clash of Titans

Lindenwood women celebrate after a tough final. Photo USA Rugby.

It was a tough year for Lindenwood Head Coach Billy Nicholas.

A disturbingly ferocious bout of COVID saw Nicholas, younger and healthier than the vast majority of serious victims of the pandemic, in intensive care and with family, friends, and players concerned he might not recover.

Saturday in Houston Nicholas, hooked up to an oxygen machine but smiling, saw his Lindenwood Lions shut out Life University 21-0 to win the 2021-22 D1 Elite Women’s Championship.

The game was closer than the score indicated, with Life having possession and scoring opportunities, but defense was the order of the day and Lindenwood’s defense was astonishing.

The game itself was punctuated by a matchup between two Sorensen Award Finalists in Lindenwood’s Eti Haungatau and Life’s Saher Hamdan. Both lined up at center and for much of the game they were smashing into each other. Each had their moments, but the was always lurking.

At one points, Hamdan was found lying almost on top of Haungatau as they were both treated for cramps, both laughing at the absurdity of it all, but also laughing at the intensity of the rivalry, and the respect.

Things didn’t go well for Life early. as their starting flyhalf Adriana Mendoza to injury just five minutes into the game. The loss forced some shifting within the backline, with freshman Nina Mason taking the flyhalf role on attack and fullback Su Adegoke sometimes doing the same on defense. 

With so much physicality the game became a scrum battle. Scrums were frequent and superbly contested, with the game-within-a-game aspect being a highlight of the match. 

Neither team could get consistently secure ball from the scrums because of that battle, and it remained a feature of the game all day.

Lindenwood finally did break through. When a Life defender tripped that left a hole and fullback Helen van Hatten burst through and a round for a try that flanker Freda Tefuna converted for a 7-0 lead.

Then a bit of magic as tighthead prop Selena Tui;ae[a sold a dummy and cut through a seam to score under the posts. She did it with a somersault that drew a gentle but firm rebuke from referee Jenny Lui, but not it was 14-0. 

The Running Eagles had a scoring chance near the end of the first half, but were held out, and the same happened at the beginning of the second period.

So 14-0 yt remained through most of the rest of the game. Life, reluctant to kick when they had the wind were forced to do it more into the teeth of the breeze. The result wasn’t good for Life. For the final 30 minutes or so they just couldn’t get out of their end. They had ball and ran phases, but the defense from Lindenwood was immense. Every player made her presence felt, although for Lindenwood hooker Destiny Arena was especially effective with tough carries, and Tafuna, Huangatau, and center Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru shone. 

With time winding down Lindenwood struck with the killer blow, the forwards making good ground and Tafuna bursting over for a try that she would convert.

It was a powerful ending statement for the final.

The game itself was played on a hot Texas afternoon at Aveva Stadium in Houston. Players were felled by cramps on multiple occasions and Haungatau was eventually forced from the field because of them. 

Still they stretched hydrated, and kept coming. Was it pretty? Depends on your perspective. But if you are a fan of the power, intensity, physicality, and pain of the game, then this was for you.