By Justin Rutledge | 08.31.15
On Saturday the Crusade continued as Cleveland hosted Pittsburgh in the first league match for the Division II side and a second warm-up match for the Division IV side. The Crusaders took two convincing wins away from the day’s competitions and made further improvements on their overall performances.
The day opened with the Division II side making its Midwest debut in a match every player, coach and spectator wanted to win. In the time of Cleveland rugby BC – before Crusaders – Pittsburgh had proven to be a nuisance for both sides. In the past Pittsburgh had been known for its sizable forwards and crushing, plodding play. Saturday, that was neutralized by the Crusaders’ defensive pressure. The Cleveland side chopped runners down to halt their offensive progress and flooded the breakdowns to affect turnover ball, or at least make life difficult for the yellow-and-black scrumhalf.
The Crusaders’ stifling defense made it easy for players to unleash the offense. Where the visiting side had big runners for the most part, the Crusaders’ big men had speed to showcase as well. One such player was Joe Brown, who was integral in two of the team’s tries, palming off and laying out defenders before passing off to supporting back line members to let them finish off the offensive movement. First he unleashed Steve Burke, who ended the day with a pair of tries. Then, Nick Musarra was the beneficiary of Brown’s rampaging run. Musarra ended the day with four tries.
Speed kills, and that was proven to be true in spades Saturday. Where the pack members made the hard yards and sucked in defenders, the backs far and away outmatched their opposite numbers. Whenever the ball got past the centers, the Crusaders’ backs were off to the races. In the opening minutes it was clear that the Cleveland line had more than enough speed to get the best of the opposition; and in the waning minutes it seemed as though the Pittsburgh backs didn’t want any part of the Crusaders.
The first side’s performance Saturday wasn’t perfect, though. The intense defensive pressure of the players led to a number of penalties for creeping offside, among other infringements at the breakdown. These penalties gave Pittsburgh free yards, free yards they converted into points on a number of occasions as the got down and dirty to drag the ball over the Cleveland line. Set pieces were points of contention during the match as well. The scrums were very back-and-forth, with the visitors exerting a bit of force on the Cleveland pack, more so in the beginning of the match than the end. The lineouts were highly contended as well. Each team had jumpers in the air and hands in the tunnel to try and get the ball as it went through the air. The lineouts were very heavy on the drives Saturday as well. Both packs pushed each other back and forth in order to make some hard yards while holding the opposition pack in.
At the end of the first match, the Crusaders had the first league win secured. The final score was a staggering 53-17 in favor of the Cleveland club.
After the first side finished the Division IV from Cleveland, dubbed the BlueSaders because of the new blue kits they wore, took on the Division III side of Pittsburgh. The result was more of the same. Power and pace played in favor of the BlueSaders and the visiting side struggled to keep up. From the very first whistle the BlueSaders’ pace put Pittsburgh players on their heels and points on the board for the hosts. Preston Lowden and Steve Fritsch terrorized the Pittsburgh line, hitting with purpose every time and getting behind the defense more often than not. Just like with the first side, quick ball movement often led to the undoing of Pittsburgh during the second match. After one quick move to the weak side, the BlueSaders ran down the field in a movement that involved a number of players, including rookie Mike Baratz, before leading to another five points for the Cleveland side. As time wore on, Pittsburgh closed the gap a bit with a few close runs at the BlueSaders’ goal line but powerful defensive play led by Scrum-Half Mark Staron secured the 49-25 win.
The Crusade takes a pause next weekend for the USA-Australia match in Chicago but kicks back into gear the following Saturday when the Division II side travels toe northern wilds of Michigan to address the challenge of the Detroit Tradesmen.
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By Justin Rutledge | 08.27.15
Last week the Cleveland Crusaders celebrated their birthday with a set of exhibition matches against the Cincinnati Wolfhounds. This weekend the matches count for more than just morale as Pittsburgh comes to town to take a shot at the new team in the DII side’s first league match.
The Crusaders’ keys to success last weekend were speed and power, whether on offense or defense. With that being said, this weekend’s line-up is certainly one that has both of those in spades. Leading the pack is Zach Webb, a player with motor and physicality to spare. Against Cincinnati, he had his nose in just about every tackle and contested breakdown. Webb isn’t the only man in the pack that is a threat on the field. Every forward, from loosehead to loose forward is supremely capable of getting into contact and making life difficult for the opposition. Scott Liechty and Pat Rayhill are the only changes to the engine room of the Crusaders. Both have enormous college and senior club experience, playing at Bowling Green State University and Miami of Ohio, respectively, before convening on Cleveland and becoming Crusaders.
The nine-ten link remains the same for the Crusaders’ back line, with Derek Imes directing traffic from up front and Nick Viviani making the calls from the rear. The Crusaders’ back line has threats all over the field. The centers, Tyler Best and Billy Regan, are notorious straight-line runners that are difficult to tackle; and the back three are speed merchants of the highest order that can take a half-gap or a little step and turn it into major meters. Scott Wallace, Esteban Burke and Nick Musarra will take the positions on the wing and at fullback. The most impressive part about these three is not how well that attack with ball in hand but how well they can turn defense into offense on the transition, something Pittsburgh will definitely have to contend with carefully on Saturday.
The reserves for the league match have as much experience and skill as the starters. A few players waiting in the wings for the pack are Trent Szente, Evan Johnson, Kritter Regan and Terry Kilbane, among others. The backs have a pair of versatile young players in Steve Wolnik and Preston Lowden ready to come in and make a mark on the league as well.
Though last weekend’s match against Cincinnati made a statement of what the Crusaders could do, it was not perfect and they’ll have to avoid making some of the mistakes from last week if they want to ensure victory this weekend. Primarily, the Crusaders need to shake the case of white line fever they seemed to contract last weekend. A few times, after manhandling the opposition, players from the Cleveland side would try to dive over the pile or go through too much traffic in order to try and force a try over. Those desperate attempts left points on the board, points that can mean the difference between winning and losing in league play. If the Crusaders can stay calm at every break of the game and stick to the game plan at hand, there’s no reason for them not to start off the season with a win.
The Crusaders take the field this Saturday, August 29, with the first match starting at 1:00pm and a second immediately following at 2:30pm at the East Side Metro Parks Pitch. The field is located on the corner of Ox Lane and River Road in the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. There is a link on the team’s Web site with full directions.
Come out. Show your support. Show your love. And #JoinTheCrusade
|August 29, 2015||2:30 PM||Friendly||2015 Preseason|
|Cleveland - Metroparks - Ox Bow Ln Chagrin River Rd|
|Chagrin River Road, Gates Mills, OH 44040, USA|
|23||Mark Staron II||Scrum-half||0||0||0||0|
|25||Miles Papa||Number Eight||0||0||0||0|
|38||Jason Geanuracos||Number Eight||0||0||0||0|