Greenwich falls to Xavier in battle of elite rugby programs [SLIDESHOW]

The Greenwich High School rugby team did everything in its power to contain Xavier High School during Saturday’s nationally-ranked game between the two schools.

However the Cardinals had to play a man down throughout most of the contest and the Knights were able to gain momentum. Xavier built a 10-0 lead and, although Big Red cut the deficit to three in the first half and six points in the second, the Knights held on for the 34-21 victory.

“In the second half we scored as many as they scored,” Greenwich High School head coach Joe Kelly said. “And we did that with a man down. We turned the disadvantage and used that to motivate. We did a great job today.”

Even before the game started, the excitement was in the air. The Cardinals were able to play in front of a plethora of fans, making it almost feel like the Greenwich High football team was competing and the atmosphere was electric.

“It’s definitely different than playing all the Connecticut teams,” senior captain Mateo Gowland said. “It’s a little tougher and you have to work hard when you play Xavier. It was still a very positive outcome. We were a man down and we were still able to hang in the game. I respect the boys a lot. They played all 70 minutes and next time we play them we have to come out strong right from the start.”

“The atmosphere was great,” Kelly said. “We got great support from the Greenwich community and the rugby community in general. It seemed like all the rugby players that were free this evening were at the game. It’s always a great match where both teams come to play.”

Greenwich trailed early, as Xavier was able to grab two trys and take the 10-0 lead. However that didn’t last long, as Greenwich’s Brechan Allison gained possession of the ball and darted close to half the length of the field for the try. Gowland’s conversion helped Big Red cut the deficit to 10-7.

One of the major plays in the game happened when Greenwich was carded with a penalty while in the scrum. The penalty meant Big Red was going to be a man down the remainder of the game.

“I would have liked to have seen an even game,” Kelly said. “Early in the game we had our man send off. He certainly didn’t do anything intentional and it was accidental if anything. What it did was not only make the numbers less for us, but it was a psychological disadvantage.”

Down 20-7 to start the second half, Big Red answered in a big way, as Jack Freheit gained possession of the ball and sprinted down the far side of the field for the try. Gowland’s conversion made the score 20-14.

Greenwich ended the game with another try, as Luke Bienstock touched the ball down and Gowland grabbed the conversion for the 34-21 score.

“They definitely came here and played a really good game,” Gowland said. “Xavier had very good backs, very good forwards, they were very big and were very skilled. They used all that to their advantage.”

The loss gives Greenwich its first of the season. However this isn’t the last time Big Red will face top competition. In two short weeks, the Cardinals were head to Elkhart, Ind. and compete int he National Invitational Tournament.

“We are going to need to work on our fitness to make sure that we are as strong as possible,” Kelly said. “You need your fitness for Nationals because it’s three days of games in a row. Playing Xavier tonight helps us know that we can play against anybody and play against them solid and well. We played them well tonight and we realized that. We played great today, but it was Xavier’s day today. They deserved to win.”

Xavier is also one of the teams that will comprise the 12-team tournament.

“We want to play Xavier late in the season and closer to Nationals so we get used to that level of competition and that we aren’t surprised once we get there,” Gowland said. “We need to work on our tackling and a little more on discipline when it comes to offsides. It’s something we can work on the next two weeks and hopefully by our next game we will be improved and ready to go.”

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