AP NEWS

Greenwich boys rugby team scores key win over Aspetuck Valley

May 5, 2019

Needing a win to put itself in a position to qualify for Tier I competition at the Boys High School Rugby National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, Greenwich stared at a nine-point deficit heading into halftime against Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club on Saturday.

But the Cardinals turned their play up a notch in the second half and turned away Aspetuck Valley.

Getting their offense going in full force, Greenwich rallied to register a 36-21 comeback win over Aspetuck Valley at Cardinal Stadium. Greenwich (10-2) is currently ranked seventh in the nation. Tier I at the National Championships, which will take place May 16-18 in Salt Lake City, includes the top eight-ranked single school teams in the nation. Tier II at nationals features the highly-ranked single school teams that are not in the top eight. There’s also a Club Division at nationals, which Aspetuck Valley has qualified for.

“It was good for us to win this game,” GHS coach Joe Kelly said. “I think we’ve done enough with the victories we’ve had and the close losses that we had against the first and second-best teams in the country, to qualify for Tier I at nationals.”

Said Andrew Nanai, who Kelly said was the “man of the match,” Saturday due to his outstanding tackling: “In the first half they (Aspetuck Valley) kind of punished us, but how we responded was definitely important. We understood how important this game was and that if we lost to this team there was a pretty high chance that we would be in the second tier at nationals.”

Aspetuck took a 7-0 lead with a try and a conversion kick early in the first half on Saturday. A try by Greenwich’s Ian Foster and a conversion kick by Francisco Liguori tied the score at 7-7.

Two tries and a kick increased Aspetuck Valley’s lead to 21-7, but Liguori’s try, set up by a squib kick closed the Cardinals to within 21-12 at halftime. Foster began the second half by reaching the try zone and Liguori was true on the kick, cutting the Cards’ deficit to 21-19.

Junior Evan Weigold gave Greenwich the lead for good, sprinting to the try zone and giving the Cardinals a 24-21 edge. Tries by Santi Thompson and Larry DeLuca sealed the significant victory for Greenwich, which held Aspetuck scoreless in the second half.

“This victory shows how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,” Liguori said. “The work ethic and the heart we put out there from the start to the end was amazing. We were down, so that’s when that brotherhood we have plays in, and we helped support each other and we brought our spirits up. That ultimately, led to our success.”

Greenwich visits Staples Thursday, before heading out to the national tournament in Utah.

“Basically, if we didn’t win this game today we wouldn’t secure a spot in the top eight at nationals,” Liguori said. “We don’t want to go all the way to Utah and play in Tier II and we didn’t want to lose today in front of our biggest crowd of the year.”

Greenwich, was indeed, challenged by Aspetuck on Saturday.

“They put a great squad together and you can see they are peaking for nationals,” Kelly said of Aspetuck. “They also gave us an opportunity to prepare for nationals.”

Added Nanai: “We knew it was going to be a close game. Their forwards were big, but we felt we could handle them. We woke ourselves up in the second half.”

The Cardinals will go into the national championships with high aspirations.

“Definitely, the goal is to come out at nationals with a title,” Nanai said. “We’ve never won nationals and that would be a huge achievement to come by in nationals.”

dfierro@greenwichtime.com