The Palmer College rugby team knew they were in for a difficult time.
Having lost to the Chicago Lions in league play in Chicago, the Dragons were fully aware than Chicago might trip them up in Sunday’s quarterfinals.
And it almost happened. After taking an 8-0 lead after 13 minutes thanks to an early try from lock Lionel Bassett and a penalty from player-coach Luke Stringer, Palmer went silent, and the Lions hauled them in.
“We started the game well,” said Stringer, who coaches the team and played scrumhalf Sunday. “We were playing up-tempo and did what we wanted to do. But after that we couldn’t get into the game, really. They kicked really well, and any time we wanted to speed the game up – take a quick tap, or a quick lineout – the ref wouldn’t let us.”
Chicago pressure started to force Palmer penalties, and in a close game, a good goalkicker can really punish you for that. That’s exactly what Chicago flyhalf Nick Viviani did, kicking four penalty goals in the first half to give his side a 12-8 lead at the break.
“We got into far too much penalty trouble, and when you’ve got a kicker on form, then that hurts, and [Viviani] was kicking very well,” said Stringer.
Stringer himself slotted two penalties to put Palmer ahead 14-12, only to see Viviani kick one more and make it 15-14 Chicago with 16 minutes to go.
That’s how it stayed, as both teams showed excellent defense. Then with about eight minutes to go, Palmer got their up-tempo game going. They spun the ball to one side, then the other, and back up the middle. Stringer saw a chance.
“I saw a mismatch between me and a big forward, and thought I could just sort of ghost through the gap, which is what I did,” said Stringer. “It was a good team try, and the sort of try we wanted to score all game, really. I was just glad to score it.”
Stringer’s try gave Palmer the 19-15 lead they would not relinquish.
The victory was accomplished with hooker Jacob Myers and flyhalf Chad London playing 70 and 80 minutes, respectively despite injuries.
“I am just happy with how the team persevered,” said Stringer. “The guys showed a lot of commitment and defensive commitment. Chicago is a really good team and in another bracket could be in the final four. But I am glad we are; everyone gave a big effort.”
Palmer will face Austin or Glendale in the national semis in Glendale, Colo. June 2.
Tries: Bassett, Stringer
Pens: Stringer 3
Chicago Lions 15
Pens: Viviani 5