Downriver Sharks 3 Dexter Devils 43
Dexter tries: J. Steedman, Even, Camp, A. Steedman, Orlowski, Stairs, Makin; cons: Makin (4)
On Friday, Dexter Rugby Football Club, playing this year in collaboration with Genesee County Elite RFC, scored a 43-3 bonus-point victory over Downriver Sharks RFC at Civic Center Park, Woodhaven. Seven tries by seven different players and four conversions won the Devils’ second successive away match in the Michigan Youth Rugby Association Division One East, following last week’s victory at Birmingham. They now play Dearborn Silverbacks on Wednesday (Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg; 6 pm kick-off), the first of two home matches that will determine the Devils’ playoff berth.
Downriver Sharks, promoted from Division II this season and coming off a 33-0 defeat to Troy last week, were an unknown quantity for DRFC, who had not faced the Sharks since Dexter’s B team lost 22-0 to them two years ago, when the Sharks were still a Division III team. What was known was that this year Downriver coach Jason Dodd faced the same challenge as Dexter’s head coaches, Paul Burke and Doug Karaska, having lost most of last season’s successful team to graduation. However, home team numbers looked good at Civic Center Park on Friday and Devils’ supporters eyed with anxiety some very well-built opposition players during warm-ups. Anxiety among the Devils’ followers increased after kick-off, when, for the first five minutes of the match, Sharks kept the ball almost entirely in the Devils’ half, although they could not drive close to the try line. The Devils then gained possession from a penalty, kicked for touch, won the lineout, and repeated the procedure until they were camped on the Downriver five-metre line, whereupon, from successive scrums, no 8 Jaylin Steedman (Linden High School, Jr) ran the ball round the corner, scoring the second time. Scrum-half Neil Makin (DHS, Jr) failed with the (kickable) conversion, which bounced off an upright. The Devils spent most of the remaining twenty-five minutes of the first half on offense, but only had another five points to show for their control of territory and ball, the try coming near the left corner, when Makin took a quick tap penalty from five metres out, ran two paces and offloaded to captain and hooker Tyler Even (DHS, Sr), who used his extra muscle mass, gained for high-school wrestling this year, to power the ball in. Makin’s conversion attempt from a tight angle went narrowly wide.
Dexter had dominated the first half, kicking for touch effectively from penalties, winning lineout ball (often uncontested) and using forward and midfield power – the latter in the persons of centres Aaron Steedman (LHS, Jr) and Ethan Stairs (DHS, Sr) — to hold the opposition on defense and threaten repeatedly on offense, but 10-0 was hardly a secure lead. Three minutes into the second half Downriver Sharks scored their only points of the match, when Dodd persuaded his inexperienced team – not without some effort – to kick for goal from a penalty under the posts, but five minutes later another quick tap from Makin a few metres out was passed to prop Jake Camp (Byron High School, Jr), who had replaced starting prop Kyle Rooke (DHS, So) early in the match, after Rooke took a blow to the head and came off with a possibly broken nose. Camp, who had a very fine game (as did fellow prop Skylar Stites (LHS, Jr)) rumbled in, whereupon Makin found his radar to convert.
From that point on the Devils had control of the game. Five minutes later they won their own lineout at midfield (flanker Nathaniel Orlowski (DHS, Sr), who had another superb game, ensured clean ball from Dexter throws throughout the match) and Jaylin Steedman, playing the no 9 position at lineouts to add power options, lobbed the ball to his twin Aaron Steedman, whose own power, speed, and agility produced a perfect centre’s try from forty metres out. Makin converted.
By now Mason Monroe (DHS, So) had replaced Josh Friedman (DHS, Sr) at flanker, and Alex West (DHS, Sr) had joined Robert Guenther (DHS, So) in the second row, replacing Clayton Drenner (DHS, Sr), but Dexter’s pack continued to show improvement from last week in open play, although coaches Burke, Karaska, and Dustin Steedman (Genesee Elite; assistant coach Steve Turosky, now also head coach at EMU, could not make the trip) did express concern about the tight five’s technique in the scrum. Nonetheless, it was a scrum thirty metres out with ten minutes to go that produced another fine try for the Devils, as the quick-thinking Orlowski took the ball from the base of the scrum and ran in, with Makin again converting. Five minutes later outside centre Stairs scored after an excellent move; Makin added another two. The final play of the match saw Makin, who had consistently exploited Downriver’s slow response at penalties, take another quick tap and run the ball in from twenty-five metres, surprising spectators and, in all likelihood, himself, not only by outfoxing the Downriver full back, but also by outpacing – just – the pursuit, to score his first try for Dexter in his third year with the club. Somewhat eccentrically, Dexter declined to kick the conversion and the referee blew for full time. Fly-half Seamus McCurren (DHS, Jr), wingers Noah Mahnke (LHS, Jr) and Truman Stovell (DHS, Jr) and full back Sean Wakefield (DHS, Sr), although not among the points, could feel as satisfied as their point-scoring team mates with strong performances on both sides of the ball.
Following Genesee Elite RFC tradition, the coaches chose a man-of-the-match. Obvious candidates included Even, who put in another very strong game and showed maturity as captain, the outstanding Orlowski, the Steedman brothers, Stairs, Stites, and Camp, but the coaches’ choice was the scrum-half, partly for his rapid ball from the base of the ruck.
In the “third half” that followed the match, all the Devils’ squad players who had not been part of the starting XV showed their skills as they dominated their opposite numbers, with back Gavin Mackie (Grand Blanc High School, Fr) demonstrating great promise through good hands and outstanding speed.
A satisfactory result, with the bonus point (for scoring four or more tries), sent the Devils home from Woodhaven happy, but coaches and players will all know that bigger challenges await. The Sharks repeatedly showed their inexperience – for example, taking tap penalties instead of kicking for touch even inside their own twenty-two-metre line, and never kicking for territory in open play (so that the Devils back three never came under pressure from the high ball); similarly, the Devils almost never had to kick in open play (a short up-and-under from the scrum half the only exception of note). When the Devils face an opponent playing efficient fifteen-man Rugby the story is bound to be very different.
The Devils will hope for a good turnout at Manly Bennett field on Wednesday: Dearborn Silverbacks always provide tough opposition, and will be smarting after their 29-0 defeat to Troy in their opening match.
Dexter’s squad list, with further details of the Dexter Rugby program, may be accessed here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2ypd3vcs3909w8p/DRFC%20Team%20Sheet%202016.pdf?dl=0. For further information on Dexter Rugby, go to the Facebook page for “Dexter Rugby” or http://www.rugbymichigan.org/page/show/2367446-dexter. Follow DRFC on Twitter @DexterRugby.