BRISBANE - Brothers Rugby Club escaped Crosby Park with a 36-34 defeat of the AIG Men's Collegiate All-Americans on their Tour to Queensland sponsored by WellDog Wednesday.
The home side took a sizable lead into halftime before tactical substitutions from MCAA Head Coach Gavin Hickie, including the introduction of Tour captain Aladdin Schirmer, led the MCAAs to a 21-0 run late in the second half. Brothers snatched victory at the death through a penalty goal, a fitting end to a well-contested exhibition matchup.
The All-Americans will finish the Tour against Queensland Premier Barbarians Sunday, Aug. 14.
"We wanted to see some different combinations and it took us a while to gel," Hickie said. "However, we set ourselves high standards and we know that we were not good enough in the first half."
The MCAAs suffered from the same errors that cost them precious points in Saturday's defeat of Darling Downs Select Side, compounded by Brothers' efficiency on attack. The home team opened the scoring in the second minute of the match with a long break followed by a penalty against the MCAAs.
Saint Mary's College's Dylan Audsley kept the MCAAs within striking distance early with two penalty goals three minutes apart, the second a monster of a kick from a slight angle at midfield. The positive runs of Brigham Young University's Calvin Whiting and University of Wyoming's Cody Jerabek were essential to the first point-scoring opportunity, and the former took on the Brothers defense several more times throughout the match.
A Brothers attack in the 18th minute was kept quiet with patient play in the breakdown area by the MCAAs, who drew a penalty and kicked to touch. The ensuing lineout was stolen by a Brothers flanker, however, and promptly taken to the try zone for a 14-6 score line.
The 34-21 final score from the MCAAs' first match could very well have looked different as Hickie's side manufactured more scoring chances than it converted. That was the story for Wednesday's game, as well, making Brothers' tries all the more influential on the outcome of the match. Audsley missed a penalty goal attempt a few minutes after the second Brothers try before a loose pass from the MCAAs in the final minute of the half led to a Brothers substitute chasing his own kick down field for a 19-6 halftime advantage.
"It was evident from our first-half performance that we were simply not clinical enough," Hickie said. "We gave away soft points and it took us until the second half to get into the game. Once again our decision-making, for the most part, was correct, but our execution under pressure was poor.
"It's always tough to have to claw our way back into a game when we give up so many points. What is pleasing is that we did fight back and we took the lead with only a few minutes to go."
The MCAA scrum was more than a bright spot in the contest, holding its own against a more physical opponent. Substitute and SMC student-athlete Dino Waldren shored up the set piece in the second half and gave the team a boost with ball in hand. Trinity College's Connor Kearns started Wednesday's match from the bench following a positive performance at No. 10 Saturday, and came on in the second half with the extra impetus to get the MCAAs going on the score sheet.
Kearns' weaving break in the 58th minute was brought to an end five meters from the try line, but the player smartly found support in Life University's Cody Melphy for the MCAAs' first try. Audsley converted from the touch line to cut Brothers' lead to 19-13. Brothers responded in kind when the MCAAs fumbled the ball around along their try line minutes later to regain the 13-point advantage at 26-13.
Captain Aladdin Schirmer entered the match in the second half and was directly involved in the final three tries. BYU's Matt Jensen was the beneficiary of the first two as an MCAA counter attack kept play alive with brilliant offloads down the field, dotting down for a 26-20 score in the 66th minute. On the next possession, Schirmer kept his wits about him in the tackle area meters from the post and found his teammate for the go-ahead, 27-20, score.
Schirmer dummied a pass in his own half in the 70th minute and ran all the way to the 10 before offloading to Boyer with space. The captain and Kearns both stayed in support, and a Brothers knock on the MCAA's pass did little to keep Schirmer from recollecting for the try. Audsley added the extra two points from in front of the posts to give the MCAAs their first lead of the match at 34-26.
Brothers hit back straight away not a minute after the ensuing restart to draw within a point at 34-33, and the MCAAs conceded a penalty in the dying seconds of the match, allowing Brothers to win with a penalty goal at 36-34.
"Collectively we must learn to close out games," Hickie said. "We will all learn from this, analyze our performance, and move forward.
"Our collegiate rugby players are not used to playing at the intensity we are facing in Australia. The speed of the game and the accuracy required to perform at this level has been an eye-opener for our players. This defeat hurts but we must take it on the chin, learn from these games, and continue to move forward. Despite the tough loss, we will come back better players from this fantastic experience."
The MCAAs will finish the Tour to Queensland sponsored by WellDog Sunday, Aug. 14, at Ballymore Stadium against a Queensland Premier Barbarians side. The match is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET), with a DoubleTake Productions live stream on the Tour Facebook page.Written by Chad Wise