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Okapi Downs #1-Ranked Woodlands in Texas

irish rugby tours

Okapi Downs #1-Ranked Woodlands in Texas

Matthew Arteta evades the final tackler to race in for the game-winner.

Perhaps the biggest game of the weekend was just a little touring matchup.

Florida-based Okapi Wanderers, ranked #11 among HS clubs, defeated Woodlands, ranked #1, in Texas. The scoreline was close, 15-10, but close or not it was a remarkable achievement for Okapi.

"It was a fantastic win for Okapi on Saturday against an amazing Woodlands side," said Okapi Head Coach Juan Orfila. "We knew it was going to be the toughest game of the season, and talking with Woodlands coaches they felt the same way, seeing this game as a great test in preparation for the Nationals. The game was as we expected, a very physical one, with dominant defenses on each side. Woodlands has very strong centers and they continuously attack through them with the support from a big and solid pack of forwards.

"We new we will have  chances to score but the way we defend was going to be the key for a win."

The Wanderers scored their first try 21 minutes in off a lineout-and-maul. Woodlands answered with a penalty at 26 minutes. That was it for the first half. A try from wing Lucas Staggs, with Neel Menon's conversion made it 10-8 Woodlands with 44 minutes gone.

But Okapi got one over nine minutes later to win it 15-10.

"Our defense was amazing again—in the league we only conceded an average of five points in eight games so far," added Orfila.

Okapi likes to make positive tackles and they did a lot of that. Forwards Nano Fernandez (hooker), Keaton McLeavy, and Gyani Mosi (both flankers), and backs Juan Cheda (center), Simon Van Thienen (wing), and fullback Romulo Sotomayor led that defensive effort.

"Our backs remained in control despite being under pressure all the time," said Orfila, noting that this was especially true of flyhalf Joaco Tártara, who garnered plenty of attention by the Woodlands defense. 

The game-winner came when wing Matthew Arteta raced through the middle of the field, evading three or four tackles to go in under the posts. Tártara's conversion sealed it.

In the forwards, Okapi battled hard and despite being under pressure in the scrum managed not to lose any possession.

Okapi No. 8 Luis Cruzado and Arteta on the wing were named the best players by Woodlands, while the top player on the Texas team was flyhalf Neel Menon.

On the tour to Texas, Okapi took 28 varsity players and 29 U16s along with seven coaches and five managers. Orfila credited his conditoning coaches with preparing the players to last through their most intense games of the season.

"It was a great weekend for Okapi, not only for the win and competition, but for the kids to bond and have fun all together," said Orfila. "And we showed how we play rugby in Florida."