Longtime high school rugby rivals Greenwich and Xavier have dueled in numerous matchups that were decided in last minute and final seconds over the years, so it wasn’t surprising to see Saturday’s game between the teams come right down to the last possession.
Xavier, a high school from Manhattan, moved its way toward Greenwich’s try zone with all its might with no time remaining, while the Cardinals used their force in attempting to hang on to a one-point lead.
Making a defensive stand they’ll long remember Greenwich held off Xavier and hung on for a dramatic 23-22 victory in an exciting matchup played this past Saturday at Cardinal Stadium.
“We kind of knew going in that it was going to be a nailbiter, based on who they played, who we played and their style of play,” Greenwich coach Mike Fina said. The rivalry never makes it an easy one no matter where either team is.”
The hard-fought win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cardinals, who raised their record to 6-4. Greenwich lost to Staples, 28-16, and dropped a 25-6 decision to the Charlotte Cardinals in its previous two games. Still, Greenwich has earned an invitation to the 2022 Boys High School Rugby National Championships, which is scheduled to be held May 18-22 at Elkert, Indiana. Saturday’s victory against Xavier may have gone a long way in deciding whether Greenwich will compete in Tier 1 or Tier 2 of the Boys High School Rugby National Championships.
“Based on how the invited teams for nationals were looking, this game might have an impact as to who is going to play in Tier 1, who is going to play in Tier 2,” Fina said. “The coaches and I were talking all week that the Xavier coaches were giving their guys the same speeches.”
Ignacio Rocca scored two tries and Nico Figueroa converted three penalty kicks for Greenwich’s 23 points against Xavier.
“Obviously, Xavier has been our rival for so long and it’s great to come out on top, especially with the season that we’ve been having,” said Figueroa, who also plays on Greenwich’s boys soccer team. “It’s not been the best season so far, but this was a really big win to keep the momentum going into nationals.”
Xavier bulled its way into the try zone early in the first half to take a 5-0 lead – the conversion kick was no good. The Cardinals countered with a try from Rocca. Figueroa split the uprights with the ensuing conversion and Greenwich took a 7-5 edge early in the opening half.
“The first one (try) we were on their 50, our flyhalf drew both defenders and he gave me a nice pop right into the gap, so I was able to get through,” Rocca said.
With just over 19 minutes remaining in the first half, Figueroa made a three-point penalty kick, giving Greenwich a 10-5 advantage. Xavier responded by using good teamwork to tally a try with 1:02 to go in the first half, knotting the score at 10-10. The Cards went into halftime with the lead though at 13-10, thanks to another penalty kick from 30 yards out by Figueroa.
“Nico Figueroa was super calm, there was wind, there was rain,” Fina said. “When we were kicking, he put it right where he wanted. He’s move into the flyhalf position and has really stepped up. I’m super proud of him.”
Besides the conversion and penalty kicks, Figueroa’s kicks during the game gave Greenwich solid field position.
“I knew that we were in bad field position, so I knew I needed to make a big kick to get the team to get into a better position,” Figueroa said. “Obviously, Xavier has been our rival for so long and it’s great to come out on top.”
With 30:20 remaining in the second half, Figueroa was perfect on another three-point kick, extending Greenwich’s lead to 16-10. Shortly after Figueroa’s kick, the Cardinals scored their second try of the game.
On the run, Rocca picked up a perfectly placed kick by Figueroa and sprinted 35 yards into Xavier’s try zone. Figueroa added the conversion and Greenwich went ahead, 23-10.
“He kicked it straight down the middle, I had to chase it in open space and I grabbed it and ran into the middle,” Rocca said of his second try. “Xavier has been our rivals for countless generations. It’s always a huge game, it’s a high-powered match. Both teams put everything into the match.”
Xavier scored a try at the 21:48 mark of the second half, then added another try with 17:08 left to play, cutting the Cards’ lead to 23-22. The visitors threatened to take the lead after that, especially in the final seconds of action, but the Cardinals weren’t about to let a home victory against their rivals escape them.
“That’s just heart,” Fina said of the match’s final possession. “That’s who wants it more, who is going to give ground and I’ve said at the beginning of the year, this team enjoys being around each other more than any other team I’ve played on or been around. You saw that on that last one, nobody wanted to give an inch. I’m just super proud of them.”
Greenwich, which has also registered victories against Fordham Prep, Fairfield Prep, Morris Rugby Club and Loyola Blakefield this season, has battled its way through a number of key injuries. The team is captained by Charlie Beney, Luke Ware and Garrett O’Dell.
“This team has been through a ton this year,” Fina said. “We had two captains coming back from injury. We had other key players injured to start the season, we’ve lost guys to injury, which happens every season. I’m super proud of the heart our guys showed. It’s a very emotional game, so I’m proud of how our guys kept their cool and now, we’re starting to get guys back. Some guys are returning to play coming off injuries, so hopefully, we can use this emotional win to give us some momentum going into our game against Simsbury.”
Greenwich hosts Simsbury on Senior Day at Cardinal Stadium on Thursday at 5 p.m. Then the national tournament takes place in Indiana the week after.
“This win was key for nationals, it was between us and Xavier to see who gets into Tier 1 and Tier 2, so we really needed this to put us in a better spot,” Rocca said. “The deciding factor was who had more heart. You have to give everything you’ve got and clearly the score shows.”