The Wilmington Rugby Football Club made it to national Division II Club Semifinals this weekend by defeating defending national champs Rocky Gorge 24-12 in the quarterfinals.
It was an interesting preliminary playoff weekend for the Delaware side, as they played a largely unknown Pitt City team, and then a Rocky Gorge squad they know quite well.
Head Coach Struan Murray said he did not know too much about Pitt City before their match, but they focused on ball retention, winning set pieces, and controlling the scrum. Wilmington did not play their best, he added, but the players did a good job of keeping the ball and that carried them to victory.
The quarterfinals match was against Rocky Gorge, which was a match in which both teams knew each other inside and out. Murray made some adjustments including going wider with runs to spread the defense out.
“We kept coming in waves,” says Murray, “and they had a hard time adjusting to that change.”
Although Coach Murray was familiar with the players on Wilmington for a long time, he only began coaching the team in February. In fact, it was a game against Rocky Gorge when he realized that Wilmington had national championship potential.
The team wanted to beat Rocky Gorge so badly that they had some of their most intense practices leading up to that game.
In the actual game, said Murray, “I knew we had a good team, but I started to think we had something national contending in the first ten minutes against Rocky Gorge. They were shocked, and we had the confidence.”
After Wilmington emerged victorious, there was no longer fear of playing anyone else.
Led by blindside flanker Jarrell Avant, No. 8 Kevin Wiggins, and flyhalf Connor Mullarkey, Wilmington has been a handful for everyone they’ve played. Avant has been outstanding carrying the ball and making tackles.
“He is consistently very physical and is a presence on the field,”” said Murray.
Wiggins is the Wilmington’s best known player and Murray says he is the single most aggressive player he has ever been around.
“He is the emotional leader of the team and is very physical and intimidating, yet extremely technical,” said Murray. “He can drive the other fourteen guys to a different level.”
Mullarkey has gotten better and better since the first playoff game in April. He likes to challenge the gainline and Murray said he is good on defense and at the breakdown, too.
This weekend Wilmington enters the national semis knowing they have the passion and the aggressiveness, but that they need to be more clinical.
At times, his team has gone ahead in games, only to let the opponent hang around. Murray would like to see Wilmington be more ruthless by scoring more points. Once they get ahead, he wants to see the team have a relentless attitude, turning seven points into 14, and 14 points into 21 because the teams they will face are all very capable of scoring.
But Murray believes that if his team can dominate phases of the game and take advantage of that by scoring more and more points, they will be successful in their upcoming semifinal match against Snake River. After all, they’ve already made their way past the defending champions, twice.