On a freeing cold Friday night in early April, Elmhurst Rugby had their season opener against the Rockford Ravens. Rockford brought seven players on what was a long journey on a Friday evening, because of this we were unable to play a full game of 15s so we decided to go to an improvised game of 11s, assigning some of our players to them in the first half and again in the second half.
The game kicked off under lights and it was immediately obvious that Elmhurst had were reaping the rewards of a very valuable preseason training schedule including indoor practice and rugby specific strength training at the Strength Agenda. Although less than half the team had played before, the boys took to the task of playing very well. Tackling, organization and communication enabled the hometeam to set a solid defense.
On attack, Elmhurst flourished, quick ruck ball provided by the pack allowed Ryan Costello to feed Nick Bauer at fly half who immediately looked to dissect and exploit defensive frailties. Some dynamic running from number 8, Ryan Semmelhak, tighthead prop Ben Mellion and loosehead prop CJ ‘Beef’ Cote provided some good go-forward ball for the backline to get on the front foot.
Giovanni Rodriguez, Grant Mellion and wings Danny Dunne and Ryan Blessing were able to get over the gain line time after time, supporting each other at the breakdown and providing a clean platform for Costello to feed further phases of attack.
In the pack, Jake Smallwood, Ben Bernard and Ben Fett worked extremely hard off the ball to get to their tackled team mates. The team worked well on attack and defense to support one another and keep the opposition on the back foot. It was great to see hooker, John Downing, use a spin move in open field on the attack as well as having sophomore blindside flanker Toa Hofflich, work very hard in defense to tackle and close down Rockford. Patrick Cote marshalled the backfield well, returning kicks that the Rockford team put over the top.
The set piece was interesting, the lineout lost some simple ball but that can be put down to a lack of experience against opposition, however, the scrum was magnificent. The timing, tightness and body position of each forward allowed Elmhurst to take a few balls against the head.
Some really standout players on the day include CJ Cote, who tackled well, rucked well and took two fine tries, his scrummaging was also excellent. Grant Melion made a great start to his rugby career with home great runs and thumping hits, dotting down for two tries. Ryan Costello at scrum half marshalled the pack and tackled tigerishly. His speed and quiv=ck thinking will be an asset to Elmhurst going forward this season.