Second Tough Loss for Dexter Rugby – Thursday’s Home Match vs Birmingham Crucial

Dexter 7 (try Camp, con Makin) Troy 10

Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg, Wednesday, 19 April

At the end of last Wednesday’s close loss to Troy, no one on the touchlines thought (or dared) to ask the Devils’ head coaches, Paul Burke and Doug Karaska, when Dexter RFC had last lost two matches in a row.  Even at the elite Midwest High-school Rugby Championship in Elkhart, Indiana, where the Devils regularly face private-school opposition ranked in the national top twenty, the pattern for the three-match weekend has tended to be loss-win-loss.  But now, after the defeat at Brighton two weeks ago and last week’s defeat at home to Troy, the Devils have a lot to do in the Michigan Youth Rugby Association Division One East.  Thursday’s match at home to Birmingham (kick-off 6 pm, Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg) might be Dexter’s most important fixture of the year.

This always looked like being a difficult season, with such a small and inexperienced squad, and it was obvious that any injuries could have huge impact, especially when Dexter, playing again this year in alliance with Genesee Elite RFC (also suffering from low player numbers), cannot even dress a full squad of twenty-three players.  On Wednesday, the Devils began with the same line-up that faced Brighton a week ago, but within minutes two experienced players had been lost from the pack.  First prop Skylar Stites (Linden High School, Sr) came out with a very early concussion –and will remain out until he passes the medical tests now required in rugby; and when lock Kyle Rooke (DHS, Jr) dislocated a finger a few minutes later, the Devils had three freshmen in the pack (Drew Biggert, at prop, Matthew Gaetcher at flanker (both DHS) and Nick Hiers (LHS) at lock).  In fact, the Devils forwards put up a fine performance despite their inexperience, with prop Jake Camp (Byron HS, Sr) contributing his third try of the season in the second half, hooker Mason Monroe (DHS, Jr) and lock Robert Guenther (DHS, Jr), flanker Parker Goetz (DHS, Sr) and number eight Jaylin Steedman (LHS, Sr) all showing great fighting spirit, but struggles in set pieces (scrums and lineouts) made it a long day for the forwards.

An even first half ended 0-0, but the Devils should have taken the lead when scrum-half and captain Neil Makin (DHS, Sr) who had earlier turned down a couple of kickable penalties, missed from under the posts after twenty minutes.

Prop Jake Camp, Scorer of the Devils’ only Try (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)

In the second half Troy pressure produced a try from their big men up front after seven minutes, but the Devils responded through Camp, whose power try out on the left wing was well converted by Makin to make it 7-5 to Dexter.  On the touchlines, Dexter fans were beginning to feel that, despite constant problems at set pieces and lethargic play from the backs, the Devils might scrape through, until a series of errors — beginning with Makin losing the ball after a tap penalty that should probably have been hoicked into touch instead, and continuing, first with the ball squirting out of a ruck in midfield, and then with missed tackles —  allowed Troy to score a late try on the left wing.  The Devils backs – Seamus McCurren (DHS, Sr), behind Makin at fly-half, Aaron Steedman (LHS, Sr) and Truman Stovall (DHS, Sr) at centre, Chris Kaufman (DHS, Sr) and Patrick Kerr (LHS, Fr) on the wing, and Adam Burton (DHS, Sr) at fullback – worked hard, but their lack of productivity (two matches, no tries), occasional handling errors, and some mistakes with the boot will all worry the coaches, who also spoke of poor decision-making from the more experienced players.

The Devils’ Lineout — an Area of Concern for the Coaches (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)

There are many areas of the game where the Devils will hope to improve quickly – the forwards have struggled with set pieces throughout the first two matches; the half-backs have not kicked consistently well and have not always made the best decisions; the centres have not always handled perfectly and have tended at times to move the ball too slowly; the back three, often under intense pressure, have missed key tackles.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to feel encouraged: not too many Michigan high-school teams have four freshmen in their line-up; Jake Camp might prefer to see a back as leading scorer, but the tireless prop can be very proud of his contribution so far; two of the Devils’ back three had not so much as touched a rugby ball until this season; and both defeats were far from overwhelming – indeed, in each match there were plenty of painful “what ifs”.

It is to be hoped that Thursday’s match sees the tide turn for the Devils.  Vocal and numerous home support would be very welcome for a squad with its backs to the wall.

Remaining league fixtures, both at home (at Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg; kick-off 6 pm):

27 April        Dexter  vs Birmingham

10 May        Dexter vs Dearborn

Over the weekend of 6/7 May the Devils will play in the Midwest Schools Rugby Championship at Elkhart, Illinois, and Dexter will host the first round of Michigan league playoffs on 20 May at Manly Bennett Field West (Hamburg).

Dexter’s squad list, with further details of the Dexter Rugby program, may be accessed here.    For further information on Dexter Rugby, go to the Facebook page for “Dexter Rugby” or  Follow DRFC on Twitter @DexterRugby

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