MALDEN, MA – Saturday was a glorious late Fall day, and the re-organized schedule of play allowed the Old Boys and B side to start the day off with two Mystic wins. Mystic Nation’s spirits were riding high coming into the A side match, but the A’s couldn’t quite do enough to win this year’s Briar Cup, losing by two points to the Wolfhounds in a match that could have been won by either side.
Much like last year’s Briar Cup match, the game was very scrappy and broken, with neither side dominating for much beyond a few phases. Both teams were also guilty of foul play, and the resulting penalties served to further break the game down. Both teams were guilty of mistakes, but the earlier mistakes were made by the Mystics, and the Wolfhounds took full advantage of them. The Wolfhounds managed to score two early tries off Mystic errors in their own territory, and moved to a 10-0 lead. The Mystics managed to get into Wolfhound territory and scored a penalty to bring the half time score to 10-3.
The second half saw the Mystics play some more structured rugby and they scored a penalty early in the second half to bring the score to 6-10. The Wolfhounds then made a foray into Mystic territory and some backchat saw the Wolfhounds get a penalty in front of the posts get moved inside the 22. They duly slotted the points and pulled away to a 13-6 lead. The Mystics then got some good phases together and Tim Holkenborg scored a try with men to spare on the outside. Mike Armstrong continued his great kicking form and slotted the goal to bring the two teams even at 13-13. The next major play of the game came when the Wolfhounds managed to clean up some scrappy lineout ball just inside the Mystics’ half, and some quick passing saw their lock break away down the touch line to score in the corner. The Wolfhounds couldn’t convert, but they still had an 18-13 lead. The Mystics then fought back and made their way into Wolfhound territory. With close on ten minutes left in the game, the Mystics were awarded a kickable penalty in Wolfhounds territory. The Mystics chose to take the points on offer and Armstrong put the Mystics two points behind at 16-18.
Soon after the restart, the Mystics put some quick phases together and a small breakaway saw the outside backs in a footrace chasing down a kick behind the Wolfhounds’ backs. Before the backs got near the ball, the whistle blew and the players were called back for a Mystic punch from a few phases earlier. Instead of a try-scoring opportunity, the Mystics had to move into defensive mode deep inside their 22. The Mystics’ defense was stellar as they turned away phase after phase of Wolfhounds attack, but the Wolfhounds did enough to run down the clock and hold on for a two point victory.
Neither team gave an inch on the day, but the real story of the game was not so much in the rugby played as in the penalties conceded for foul play. Both sides were penalised and received stern warnings on many occasions, making it very difficult for either side to build much continuity or momentum. The late penalty that saw the players called back into the Mystic half was one such momentum-breaker, but it was by no means the only one that added to the players’ frustration. The Mystics will certainly need to work on their discipline in the final week of fall play, as the White Plains team they are due to play have managed to stifle many of the other teams in the league. That said, there were some promising moments in the second half where the Mystics managed to mount some great attacking phases. The defensive effort was also a major improvement. The Mystics kept the Wolfhounds from making much ground off set pieces, and almost all the Wolfhounds’ points were from broken play or turnovers.
New England week 9 roundup from NERugby.com, with a focus on the Briar Cup match