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Rugby humbled, shocked by loss

Photo Credit: Randy Rataj
Photo Credit: Randy Rataj

Every story that has been written about the UNF Rugby club since last fall has been about the team winning.

Other than a loss in the National Championship April 29, and a loss in the Florida Cup Nov. 18, 2012, UNF has won by dominating.

Throughout the year, each player said they were confident they’d make it back to Glendale, Colo., the site of the National Championships, and return home with the trophy.

But the dream of a National Championship ended in Pensacola, Fla. March 10. The UNF rugby team left the field shocked. The Deadbirds fell to Duke University by a score of  24-5, knocking them out of the National Small College Rugby Organization playoffs.

“We’ve always understood that rugby is a really unpredictable sport — any team can win,” said junior winger Alex Mross. “Duke is a Division I team playing in a small college conference. I’m still confident that we can beat them, but we understand we’re beatable and not immortal, and when you’ve lost four games in three seasons, any loss is humbling.”

This season, the team has grown from being the little brother that the bigger schools beat up on, to the big brother. The team began growing a little cocky, and said that no team would beat them, and they’d be back at the National Championships, but Duke proved to be just too much for the Deadbirds.

The team seemed to be destined to return to Norfolk, Va., for the Sweet Sixteens March 24, as they started off the weekend with a 41-12 win over, then undefeated, Sewanee March 9.

During the Duke match, UNF was in control the first half, scoring the first try of the game, and holding Duke scoreless in the half to take a 5-0 lead.

With the wind at their back in the second half, the Blue Devils took advantage of multiple penalties by UNF and scored the majority of their points on penalty kicks. Duke only scored two tries, but was still able to score 24 points.

“We let the penalties get the best of us and they [Duke] took advantage,” Mross said.

UNF ended the regular season 5-0, its third, consecutive undefeated regular season. The team will be gutted next season, with 16 seniors on their roster, most of which are starters for the team.

Before the seniors leave, the team still has some rugby left to play. UNF will host the regional qualifier for the NSCRO Sevens Tournament April 6. The Deadbirds will have a chance for redemption against Duke in the qualifiers. UWF, and a team still to be named, will also be playing at the qualifiers.

Although the Deadbirds didn’t win a National Championship like they had hoped, they still might be able to bring home a trophy.

“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t win, but there is still a chance for a Sevens Championship, and that’s just as good,” Mross said.

The National Sevens Championship will be held in Philadelphia, Pa. June 1-2, and will be shown on NBC Sports.

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