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Six HS Teams Bring Rugby Back at Bi-Coastal Tourney

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Six HS Teams Bring Rugby Back at Bi-Coastal Tourney

Lock Sederik Saxon steals the ball for Charlotte. Photo CJRA.

After 11 months of no rugby or perhaps only modified 7s, rugby union at the high school level is making its return in the Carolinas. 

Following host state health rules and relying on private insurance, several teams met up for a big preseason weekend of 15s rugby in Rock Hill, South Carolina over President's Day Weekend.

Girls Kick Off Weekend

While the majority of the matches were boys, the weekend started with the girls taking the field first. The Charlotte Tigress and the Raleigh Area TurtleDoves electrified fans by playing a full 70 minutes of hard-nosed rugby in the driving rain and chilly 40-degree weather.  The conditions and early-season jitters did make for more knock-ons than either team would have liked. That said, there were plenty of beautiful moments with multiple phases and expansive play on both sides of the ball. Tigress were led by senior flyhalf EC Cantrell, who was dominant, but the Charlotte team was also tested by a very well drilled Raleigh side.

In the end, Tigress won 35-5 over the TurtleDoves.

Cantrell scored three tries and converted two for a personal haul of 19 points, while senior center Maddie Hughes added a try and a two conversions. Freshman winger Jemmely Rivas also touched down. Player of the game, however, was senior No. 8 Lily Separ. Having been moved from outside center to her current position, Separ ran excellent support lines, played crushing defense, and led a relatively young forward pack well.

Boys Games Entertain

The boys teams played the remainder of the matched over the weekend, with the Charlotte Tigers and Clayton Copperheads, the Carolina All-Stars, and the Crusaders taking the field. The Tigers were ranked #1 by Goff Rugby Report among HS clubs when play ended last spring. Clayton was ranked #13. The Carolina All-Stars brought in players from North Carolina and South Carolina who were eager to play. The Crusaders team was a group of players from Southern California who had made the trip to get some rugby in.

Another highly ranked team – the Raleigh Redhawks – had also planned to attend but due to a possible COVID exposure at a practice, the Redhawks opted to stay home in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved. It is very likely we will see such postponements when high school rugby returns, and it was, in the end, exactly the right thing to do by the Redhawks, as they chose safety of everyone over the short-term gratification of playing a game or two.

The teams that were there showed some good rugby, and many of the players looked as if they hadn't been away for as long as they had. The teams played with unity and skill in the shortened 40-minute matches.

Going into the Sunday showdown between the Tigers and the talented Crusaders team, both had looked very strong. The matchup did not disappoint. The game showcased the teams' speed and power, and the contest, while clean, was hard-hitting and intense throughout.

Tigers senior flyhalf and captain Porter Goodrum broke the stalemate in the first half with a 35-meter penalty kick to get Charlotte on the scoreboard first. From there the match flew back and forth, with both teams defending their red zone well and both teams eating up meters on attack in the middle of the field. Before halftime Charlotte All American No. 8 Eduan van Heerden found the tryline on a hard push to score the first try of the match. Goodrum converted from the corner and the Tigers led 10-0 at halftime.

In the second half points were even more at a premium. The speed and rush of both teams defenses were stellar. Just when one side would mount a good attack and put several phases together, the opponents defense would manage a stop and turn the ball over.  this was nicely illustrated by sophomore lock Sederik Saxon of the Tigers. He created four turnovers with his hard work in the tackle contest, but he was only one of multiple players on both teams that had at least one defensive turnover.

Goodrum added another penalty kick in the second half bringing the score to 13-0 in favor of the Tigers, but the Crusaders kept coming and drove to the corner. They looked for all the world like they would score but a well-timed tackle by Charlotte wing Isaac Prevette stopped the rush just short of the tryline.

The Crusaders continued to pressure from the ensuing lineout and with the Charlotte clearance kick slicing across the field, the Crusaders were able to gather and score in the corner opposite from where the lineout occurred. That made it 13-5 Charlotte, and that's how it would end.

“Our defensive line speed and sure tackling was very good,” said Tigers Coach Jason Paquette. “Moving into the season we will be working on improving handling errors, some timing issues around set pieces, and raising the rugby IQ as we did have some decision making errors with our younger guys.  Overall, a good preseason outing but we can’t end the season where we want to – leaving that many points on the pitch through wasted opportunities."

Clayton defeated the Carolinas All-Stars to round out their weekend and plennty more players got valuable playing time as all four teams were able to field B-side and developmental teams.