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Union Edges Newberg in Oregon

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Union Edges Newberg in Oregon

Two of the best single-school high school teams in Oregon met up this weekend, with defending champs Union holding off Newberg 32-31.

While it was a bit of a relief for Union to pull out the victory, it wasn't easy, and the result also shows that Newberg is a team to watch.

"The match was incredibly tough and, though I never communicate this to the boys, I wasn't sure we would pull it off," said Union Coach Lawrence Anderson.

Union is actually based in Camas, Wash., but the teams in southern Washington are much closer to Oregon opposition than they are to the rest of Rugby Washington's teams. So they play in Rugby Oregon, but that can cause some complications as high schools in Oregon and Washington have Spring Break at different times.

"We knew at the beginning of the week we would be short-staffed both in practice and in the match," said Anderson. "When we arrived at the pitch, we had only 16 players and the six that were missing were starting forwards and a starting back. Normally, this would be a problem for a team that focused heavily on set-piece strategy, but as our roster filled up pre-season, Coach David Curle saw that we would only have a few big, strong forwards, so we needed to do something different. He developed a game plan that focused on a blend of 15s and 7s tactics that provided our backline, scrumhalf, and flyhalf the opportunity to control and direct the course and pace of the game."

In the days leading up to the match, Anderson worked with the Titans on winning their rucks and not committing to the Newberg rucks and instead spreading on defense. The preparation, and the approach set forth by Curle, paid off.

Newberg tested Union with a physical pick-and-drive game, and were dominant in the scrums. Scrumhalf Ryan McCarthy kept the tempo going. McCarthy was also crucial on defense, covering the Union 8-9 combo of No. 8 Andrew Sperling and scrumhalf Max Burchett. Outside center and senior Hutton Peterson scored three tries and was named player of the game.

"We supported each other well and played as a team," said Newberg Coach Rick Rogers. "We had a chance in the closing minutes to push ahead but couldn't get through. Credit to Union. They are a tough team who played strong when they had to."

As for Union, Burchett and Sperling worked quickly to control their scrum ball even when their pack was moving backward. Flyhalf Zander Tkel was snappy as making the backline sing. Relatively new to rugby, Tkel has good hands and also kicks for goal well. With Jaden Brume and Nick Kennedy bringing speed and agility to the backline, Union also matched up nicely with Newberg's threequarters.

"The majority of their scoring was due to the agility of their backs," said Anderson. "I know every coach thinks highly of his or her team, but I feel that I am truly blessed. These boys put their hearts on the field and, against the odds, came back late in the second half to score three tries in a row, the last one a buzzer-beater, to win the match. Every coach should be as fortunate as I am."

As for Newberg, they lost on the last play, but know they can play with the defending champs.

"Hopefully things will work out that we get another chance at them in the playoffs," said Rogers. "With half the regular season still to go, much can happen. We'll get back after it this week. Tackle, ruck, pass and more of the same."

With the victory, Union leads Oregon's single-school league with a 3-0 record. Newberg drops to 2-1. Battle Ground had a shot at matching Union's 3-0 record on Friday, but lost 20-17 to Prairie and also dropped to 2-1. Portland Pumas bat Summit 56-21 to improve to 1-0-1. Reynolds beat Oregon City 14-0 to match the Pumas at 1-0-1.