The University of Missouri Tigers began warming up for their first match of Ruggerfest last Saturday, April 10th, at 9:30 in the morning. Played at Creve Coeur Country Park in Maryland Heights, the Tigers’ players mostly spent the night with family or friends in St. Louis the night before.
Most of the team was able to attend the first test of the day, and warm-ups began like any other day, with stretches and then a few drills. The opposing team for the 10:30 game was the Kansas City Rogues, a team the Tigers were familiar with.
“We got in a fight with them last year,” said Head Coach Eric Wright. The match the previous year was cut shot because of the on-field brawl, but the Tigers were victorious by virtue of leading in points at the time of the fight.
Before the game began, Wright gave an impassioned speech about “playing our game”, and keeping it clean until there was no way to do so any longer. He needn’t have worried. No fists were thrown this game. Not illegally, anyway.
The Tigers would throw the first punch, though, with a try scored by Mark Menne. They wouldn’t look back the rest of the game. Brett Henderson scored the next, and then the teams traded off scoring one after the other, so Ryan McDonald, Cameron Wies and Phil Hojnowksi all scored in succession to finish the match 31-10, with three from four conversions by Menne.
At times the Tigers seemed dominant against the Rogues, sweeping left and right almost at will. After 40 minutes, the score didn’t come close to showing the how the match really went.
Mizzou would go on to take a three hour break as they waited for the next test against the St. Louis Hornets. The team used the time to load up on carbohydrates, drink lots of water, sleep in the shade of tables, or just talk and joke with each other.
With the sun hanging high in the sky and sunburns beginning to appear arms and necks, the Tigers took stepped out on the pitch for the next game. The match got off to an exciting, if unexpected start as Dan Kloeckener and Mike Prince collided with a hornet players and both had to be subbed off the field due to blood, caused by a broken nose in Kloeckener’s case and a laceration for Prince, that would later require six stitches. Both players were back on the field playing within ten minutes.
The hornets used a basic but effective offensive strategy of running bangers (rucking, then running forward after clearing the ball without passing it off before being tackled) up the middle, gaining meter after meter until the Tiger defense was sucked in. Once Missouri had committed too many players to stopping the bangers, the Hornets ran the ball wide to score 35 uncontested points in 40 minutes.
As dominant as the Tigers were in the first game of the day, they came up equally lacking in the second game. Though they would get the ball into Hornet territory several times, they could not manage to push the ball over the try line. McDonald would later be helped off the field after yet another injury. Missouri lost the second game to the Hornets 35-0.
The Tigers would wait again for their third game against United. Both teams played aggressive rugby for it being the third game of the day each. Wies would separate his shoulder during a defensive tackle that forced him out of the remainder of the tournament.
Tempers flared briefly when Bryan Hebron’s fingers were kicked while he was reaching for a ball. Coming to the aid of his player, Wright, who was playing flanker for the injured Wies, had to be restrained by his team.
Aaron Lewis was the only Tiger to take the ball past the try line, but he did it three times, each time breaking a run of more than 20 meters. Menne also converted on 1 from 2, and McDonald converted on 1 from 1. The Tigers would win a hard fought game 19-10.
Missouri’s next game was played Sunday, April 11th at 11 in the morning against St. Louis University. The team that went on to win Westerns, the Tigers have a rivalry against the team because they knocked Missouri out of a berth in the Westerns tournament. The players made it clear how badly they wanted a win.
Taking the field, without Wies, the Tigers won a hard fought game of rugby. For every meter gained, it seemed they lost one. Prince joined Wies on the sideline for the rest of the game after coming off the field with a broken nose. Due to a previous surgery, playing with a broken nose could have lead to serious complications, forcing Prince to watch the remainder of the match.
Although United put up a fight, Matt Brotemarkle would score two tries, and Hebron and McDonald would add one each to win the test 24-10. Mike McMillon converted on 1 from 2 and Menne converted on 1 from 1.
Although the tournament was supposed to be double elimination, due to the lack of appearance by several teams and one team leaving early, the bracket had to be tightened, making it single elimination. Because of these circumstances, the Tigers would not play a fifth game, but instead won first place in the Pride bracket, which is something to take pride in.