The New York Athletic Club somehow pulled out a victory despite being woefully shorthanded in the backline, beating Life University 25-22 with a late try to secure a 3-0 record in the Elite Cup East.
The game means that Life has to travel back to New York for the semifinal on May 11.
NYAC entered the game with several well-regarded players: Troy Hall, Phil Bailey, Chris Chapman, Alastair McFarland, Mike Petri, and Ryan Diehl injured or unable to play, with most of those injuries picked up this week.
NYAC had to draft in John Cronin, who helped NYAC win Super League titles in 2005 and 2008, as a loose forward, and put him in at center. Cronin played well, and certainly tackled.
"We decided to play 13-man rugby and basically use our backs as extra forwards," said NYAC Head Coach Bruce McLane, adding, with admiration,. "It was a hugely violent game. The entire game was played inside the teams' 22s. We didn't get bogged down in the middle of the field. It was amazing."
NYAC got on the board first with a penalty kick from Gideon Balloch, but Life replied with a try and an Aaron McMaster penalty kick to lead 8-3 at halftime.
Just into the second half, NYAC flyhalf Toby L'Estrange scored to tie the game, and then a Neil McMillan try put the AC up 15-8.
Life were under pressure as they suffered two yellow cards during that time, one for a dangerous tackle and one for killing a quick tap attempt.
Once they were back to full strength, Life, helped by superiority in the lineout, punished Winged Foot and scored two tries, from Benny Matealona and Benji Goff, to lead 22-18 (Balloch had added a penalty for the AC).
With time winding down, NYAC got one good lineout play.
"They absolutely butchered our lineout," said McLane. "But at the end we got one, were able to work is down the field, and scored."
Wing Gareth Gibbs dove over, and Balloch kicked the conversion to seal it 25-22.
"We'd had a terrible week with all the injuries, mostly in the backs," said threequarter Danny Grace. "So we came together. We realized we had to front up as a team, and make our tackles, play defense, and with our backs against the wall, tough it out, and we did."
Grace gave huge kudos to the forwards, who battled all day in a hugely physical match. Among them, Eagle lock Brian Doyle, who made several important runs through the Life defense.
"But it was a day for all forwards," he added. "They all fronted up."
The game is a big money-saver for NYAC, as they don't have to travel to Georgia. Grace said that was a motivation for the team.
"The club backed us for a preseason trip to Georgia to help us get ready for the season, so we got this for them," he said.
Meanwhile, McLane said that this was, because of the obstacles the team has faced, one of the greatest victories in the team's history.
Tries: L'Estrange, McMillan, Gibbs
Convs: Balloch 2
Pens: Balloch 2
Tries: Bradford, Matealona, Goff
Convs: McMaster 2