Harvard Women’s Varsity Rugby entered the first week of Ivy Rugby Conference Tier I play with a mixed record and a few question marks. An easy win against Yale in last week’s cross-tier Ivy match-ups boosted confidence, but the previous week’s tough pre-season loss to varsity rival Quinnipiac and a disappointing loss to Ivy rival Dartmouth in the Ivy Rugby Playoffs last April loomed in recent memory. Dartmouth, on the other hand, with large margins in pre-season victories against Middlebury, Norwich Second XV, and Bowdoin, and a gritty win on the road against a strong Cornell side, was gunning for a repeat of its Spring encounter with then-Radcliffe Rugby Club and a chance to improve it’s fall season record to 5-0. The setting could not have been better for the tense defensive showdown that resulted in the Big Green holding Harvard off the tryline in the 78th minute and coming away with a narrow 10-5 victory. It was a perfect fall day at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse. Layers of trees on the ridge overlooking Brophy Field held the promise of the upcoming foliage season as the bright sun shimmered off early reds and golds.
Referee Sam Hoar had little tolerance for infringements at the tackle and in the rucks, and Harvard’s inability to adjust to his requests in the first half resulted in repeated extra opportunities inside the green zone for the Big Green. Despite great offensive rucking, some nice penetrations by Big Green centers and #15 Diana Wise ‘15, and the Crimson’s high penalty count, Dartmouth was unable to capitalize on 19 green zone appearances in the first half. Harvard crossed the 50 meter mark only twice during the first 40, with #10 Captain Xanni Brown ’14 making a break up the touch line with a loose ball from a ruck to put the only points of the half on the board at the 12 minute mark. At half the frustrated DWRC faced a 5 point deficit despite controlling possession.
Harvard managed to string more offensive phases together in the second half, and Dartmouth responded with mostly-well-disciplined red zone defense, driving the scrappy Harvard crashers back behind rucks and taking care of Harvard’s larger centers with big tackles. Dartmouth was not rewarded for it’s hard work until the 72nd minute of the match, when #7 Captain Pallavi Kupta-Apte ’14 matched speedster #11 Kerry Ann Conlin ’16 stride for stride from the Harvard 35 meter to pick-and-go over the try line at what would have been another of many try-saving tackles by defensive player of the match #15 Aniebiet Abasi ’15.
The DWRC attacked again from the ensuing kick off, as center Audrey Perez ’17 found her way back to the green zone through several Harvard defenders. The Big Green then went wide, but Harvard’s impressive defense forced Dartmouth to have to swing the ball back across the pitch to once again find winger Kerry Anne Conlin, who charged her way into the try zone for the final score of the match.
Harvard responded with an aggressive 78th minute attempt to even the score, but Dartmouth was able to hold them off and deliver the ball safely beyond the 50 meter mark as the clock ran out.
Harvard’s Shelby Lin and Dartmouth’s Sandi Caalim, both senior scrumhalf’s, challenged each other all day in a “game within the game” and super-aggressive tackling around scrums. The Big Green’s #1 Yejadai Dunn ’16 continued her impressive tally of offensive breaks, and rookies Sky Roehl ’16 and Kelsey Sipple ’16, stepping in for injured reserves Jovalee Thompson ’14 and Charlotte Knott ’15, played commendably in their first full A-side matches. Dartmouth’s undersized pack more than made up the weight and height difference with excellent techinique at set pieces, including textbook scrum wheels to regain possession.
It was Harvard coach Sue Parker’s first look at Tier I Ivy Rugby, and her only words to DWRC coach Deb Archambault after the match summed up what’s in store for both teams in the next two weeks: “Good game. Very aggressive”.
Tries: Pallavi Kuppa-Apte '14 (1), Kerry Anne Conlin '16 (1)