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Schuylkill River Rugby travelled to South Africa for a tour from March 18 – 25. We got a little sidetracked but now that we’ve collected all of our photos and had a bye week we’re finally doing the write up. If you go to our Facebook page you can find an album with photos from the trip.
Day 1: After a long flight, and an even longer search for Brian Keown’s wallet, we headed to our hotel to check in before heading to the rhino park. At the rhino park we had the opportunity to play and take photos with tiger cubs and a cheetah while also seeing some full grown big cats, the rhinos, and the pygmy hippos. From there we headed to the Varsity Cup match between the University of Pretoria and University of Johannesburg. UJ opened up a 27-7 lead but the match ended up being a draw when UP scored a last minute try and nailed the conversion. Interestingly, they have a rule that allows for 9 point tries if you run the ball out of your own end which helped UP earn the tie. The hotel was part of a large circus themed casino complex and the guys took advantage after the match. Brenden Reif and Hunter Valentine were particularly lucky, winning about 10K Rand between the two of them.
Day 2. The following morning we traveled to Piet Retief which is Izak Du Plooy’s hometown. After we got settled in we headed to the rugby club for our match. Tries were scored by Ian Glatts and Eric Sucheki. Following the match we had a spit braai dinner at their clubhouse. The locals told us that we were the first foreign team to ever show up in their town and some of them told us this match was the biggest event in their town’s history. That might sound like an exaggeration but based on the fact that this was a Tuesday night match played at 7PM and the social afterwards didn’t end until 10:30AM I think it’s legit. At one point we bought the bar completely out of booze and the local police chief organized a brandy resupply for us. Throughout the night we traded our jerseys and polos for Piet Retief gear and Joe Midwig successfully traded his polo for a man’s wedding ring while the wife apparently looked on approvingly.
Day 3. Following James Teti’s volunteer construction shift we headed to a rugby clinic with Albert Schlebush and Lindelani Makhanya. Albert is the current coach of Piet Retief high school as well as the U16 Pumas (the Pumas are a Currie Cup team which is South Africa’s highest domestic competition) while Lindelani is a University player who has also played for the Pumas during Craven week which is a big University competition. The clinic went pretty well given our fatigue level and the guys were able to learn some new techniques and drills to bring back home. In the evening we had team dinner at Deja-vu Lounge for potjiekos and taught the locals Dreams and Nightmares by Meek Mill while explaining the global importance of the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Superbowl. Bus driver Joe then showed us how give the bus a sunroof and we headed back to our lodging.
Day 4. Following our second night in Piet Retief we headed to Kruger park which is one of the largest games reserves in all of Africa (it is almost the size of Belgium). It is so impressive that people travel from around the world to South Africa just to visit Kruger. By my count we saw the following animals: hyenas, monkey, lions, tortoise, impala, Warthogs, zebra, giraffes, gnu, kudu, springbok, elephant, hippo, crocodile, waterbuck. The lions were particularly awe-inspiring. As we drove down the road 3 younger male lions decided to lie down in the road (apparently because the weather was cold and the road is warmer) and block traffic. One SUV was somewhat impatient and tried to get around them resulting in one of the lions appearing ready to attack the car. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see that as the lions decided to head back into the woods. After Kruger we had dinner at the Deck Restaurant followed by a team wide pool party where some of the participants were a bit more willing than the others.
Day 5. We started off the day by driving for coffee at Izak’s favorite place, Alzu, which is a rest stop/zoo combo that owns Rhinos. We didn’t get to see them but we did see an Eland. We then had breakfast at another Izak favorite, Mugg and Bean before making it to Pretoria where we took a tour of Loftus stadium and did some jersey shopping at the club store. Lunch was in the stadium at a sports bar called TrademarX. Afterwards we traveled to our lodge, the Pride of Africa Private Nature Reserve and had dinner at Kingfisher Restaurant. The guys finished the night by hanging out at the campfire and playing pool/darts in the rec room.
Day 6. We had a pre-match breakfast together at Kingfisher restaurant before traveling to Boksburg for our match where tries were scored by Tyler Kelly, Ricky Schneider, and Eric Sucheki. We had another jersey exchange and traded their club a signed jersey of ours in exchange for a framed jersey of theirs that they had made up for us. After heading back to the preserve we had a court session and a biltong party by the fire.
Day 7. We woke up and headed to the casino near the airport to kill time before flight home. During lunch Izak’s fiancé joined us and the two of them went with Izak’s family to look at wedding venues. We wish them the best of luck with their upcoming marriage. Gambling took place at Emperor’s Palace and once again the guys were successful. After a long flight home it was time to get back to normal.
Our goal is to go on tour every 2 years so we’ll be announcing the plan for our 2020 tour in the near future. Thanks for reading!
It was another good day for Schuylkill River Rugby on Saturday October 6, 2018 as both the Exiles and Troop were victorious for the second weekend in a row. The Exiles travelled down to Washington DC and earned a 37-26 victory over Potomac while Troop hosted the Gryphons in the first of their four consecutive home matches and 33-12.
Following the Exiles match Coach Burch said “We stuck with our defensive structure and showed composure in our attack. With 27 points Brian Keown was a force from the 10 spot. Our forwards’ ability in the set piece put us on the front foot. Overall, a great team win.” Director of Rugby Pat Boyle added that the guys played a really solid game for the first 70 minutes to build a 37-5 lead but when you play a great team like Potomac you can never let your foot off the gas and that showed when Potomac scored 3 tries in the final 10 minutes to make it a 37-26 final.
Fly half Brian Keown played a strong match, scoring 2 tries and making 4 conversions and 3 penalty kicks. Other try scorers included Matt Henderson and Sean Barnes. Coach Burch also praised the play of John McCurdy, Joe Midwig, and Geoff Matthes. Boyle also gave a shout out to Henderson for a making a brilliant play to beat 3 defenders for his try and to Barnes for running good lines both with the ball, and in support. Matt Zebrowski was named man of the match by Coach Burch for his performance from the hooker position.
Tries: Keown (2), Barnes, Henderson
Cons: Keown (4)
Pens: Keown (3)
Despite Troop earning a bonus point victory against the Gryphons, Coach Pierce wasn’t satisfied and focused on what the side needs to do to reach their potential. “We were not able to display patience when required and requested. However, we increased our focus for 60 of 80 minutes and our last 20 minutes were our best” according to Coach. Izak Du Plooy was named man of the match in his return from the homeland and other strong performers included Ross McMonigle, John Hines Jr, and Brad Selman.
Tries were scored by Tom Stenberg, Dave Hilley, McMonigle, and Hines (2) while Ryan Tower added a conversion and 2 penalties. The penalties were particularly important given the difficulty of kicking on the muddy field and they helped us maintain a cushion when a couple of lapses in our play allowed the Gryphons to bring the score to 16-12 before a strong finish.
Tries: Hines (2), Hilley, McMonigle, Stenberg
Cons: Tower (1)
Pens: Tower (2)
Season Scoring Totals:
Tries: Jabari Johnson (3), John Hines Jr. (2), Dave Hilley (2) Michael Bacon (1), James Brunson (1) Cody Bukowski (1), Ed Carter (1) Matt Hughes (1), Ross McMonigle (1), Tom Stenberg (1)
Cons: Ryan Tower (8)
Pens: Ryan Tower (3)
Tries: Sean Barnes (4), Randy Helsman (3), Brian Keown (3), Joe Midwig (2), Dan Deal (2), Pat Boyle (1), Jeff Hall (1), Matt Henderson (1), Dante Jacquet (1) Brad Volm (1)
Cons: Keown (12)
Pens: Keown (5)
It was a big weekend for Schuylkill River Rugby with Troop traveling to Blackthorn and earning a 21-17 victory and the Exiles getting a 34-10 win in a home match against the Washington Irish.
In the match against Blackthorn some early penalties gave easy field position to Blackthorn which helped the hosts take a 7-0 lead. Our guys fought back and evened things up off of a Dave Hilley intercept try. Towards the end of the first half we took a 14-7 lead thanks to a try from James Brunson which was assisted by John Hines Jr.
In the second half Blackthorn stuck to their strategy of relying heavily on the pick and go which starved us of possession. A try off of a messy lineout and a penalty kick gave them a 17-14 and it looked like time might run out on us. Thankfully Hines Jr. was able to break the line and carry the ball from inside our half into the opposing 22 and Ed Carter was able to finish off a sequence of picks to score on the last play of the match and give us a 21-17 win. Ryan Tower was steady with the boot all day to hit his 3 conversions.
After the match Coach Grasso said "we really had to weather the storm for the first 15 minutes as Blackthorn had a relentless attack. Our backs were hampered by a narrow, wet, field but took advantage of their opportunities. The forwards did a good job of stepping up to the challenge of repeated pick and goes and crash balls from the opposition. It was a great team win and the guys gave it everything until the final play.
Dave Hilley was named Man of the Match for his performance and Coach Grasso also mentioned Dave Gross, Hines, and Brunson as strong performers.
Tries: James Brunson, Ed Carter, Dave Hilley
Cons: Ryan Tower (3)
In the match against the Washington Irish we got off to a slow start on a muddy field and faced a 10-5 halftime deficit. The team battled back and had a great second half scoring 29 unanswered points to earn a 34-10 victory. Coach Pierce stated that “both sides struggled with the ground and wet ball. We battled through the first half, with some sloppy play putting us in trouble, but scrambling got us out of it. In the second half we took control with our attack coming together, on top of our territory management and defense suffocating our opponents.”
According to Director of Rugby Pat Boyle one of the things that set us apart was our bench. The subs we used came into the match ready to play and that gave us a big advantage. Boyle pointed specifically to the play of backs Matt Henderson and Jabari Johnson who brought a ton of speed into the match and let us pull away.
Austin Lucas was named Man of the Match by Coach Pierce for his work in the pack and other performers who earned recognition included Geoff Matthes, Dan Deal, Henderson and Johnson.
Tries: Sean Barnes (2), Jeff Hall, Dante Jacquet, Joe Midwig
Cons: Brian Keown (3)
Season Scoring Totals:
Tries: Jabari Johnson (3), Michael Bacon (1), James Brunson (1) Cody Bukowski (1), Ed Carter (1) Dave Hilley (1) Matt Hughes (1)
Cons: Ryan Tower (7)
Pens: Ryan Tower (1)
Tries: Sean Barnes (3), Randy Helsman (3) Joe Midwig (2), Dan Deal (2), Pat Boyle (1), Jeff Hall (1), Dante Jacquet (1) Brian Keown (1), Brad Volm (1)
Cons: Keown (3)
Pens: Keown (2)
There’s a youth movement in Schuylkill River’s on-field leadership with Brian Keown taking the reigns as Captain of the Exiles. Brian played locally for St. Joe’s Prep from 2008-2012 where he was the captain from 2011-2012 and the MVP in 2012. From there he went to the University of South Carolina where he played from 2012-2016 and was named MVP in 2015-2016 and SEC Player of the Year in 2016. At South Carolina he also played in the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) in 2014 and 2016 and the USA Rugby 7s Collegiate Nationals from 2014-2016 as well as the USA Rugby 15s Collegiate Nationals in 2015 and 2016. Brian’s 7s skills have also seen him named to Atlantis sides that traveled to Barbados in 2017 and Las Vegas in 2018. Since joining Schuylkill River in 2016 Brian has established himself as a key player in both 7s and 15s and his efforts have earned him a D1 Backline MVP award at our 2018 awards banquet.
Helping Brian out with the Exiles is Vice-Captain Joe Midwig. Joe got his start playing rugby with the famed Calvert Hall program based out of Baltimore that also produced Schuylkill stalwart Matt Chiaramonte. After graduating in 2009 Joe matriculated to Drexel University where he played under current Schuylkill Coach Mike Burch until 2014 when he joined Schuylkill River. Joe’s natural leadership has led to him being named captain of his high school, college, and men’s club teams and his strong play on the field resulted in him being named an All-Conference performer in high school. While at Drexel, Joe also had the opportunity participate in the Collegiate Rugby Championship.
Leading the way for Troop is Ryan Tower who learned the game of rugby on the mainline with Conestoga High School from 2005-2008 where he was the Vice-Captain in 2008 and a member of the EPRU U19 All-Star team. Ryan went on to play at Millersville University from 2008-2012 where he was the Vice-Captain in 2011 and a member of the EPRU West All-Star team. After graduating, Ryan played for Philadelphia-Whitemarsh from 2012-2015 before coming to Schuylkill where he was named D3 Captain beginning in 2017.
Providing additional veteran leadership for Troop is Vice-Captain Dave Hilley. Hilley played a season of rugby for Marple Newtown High School in 1999 before graduating and playing for Drexel from 1999-2004. Hilley has been a member of Schuylkill River Rugby from 2004 to the present and in his time here he has been part of Schuylkill River teams that have played in National Sweet 16s and Elite 8s and he was Captain of the Schuylkill B-Side that won the MARFU B-side division. Hilley’s leadership qualities are apparent to everyone who takes the field with him which is what made him Coach Burch’s first choice for an Assistant Coach when he started coaching at Drexel, a position that Hilley has held since 2011.
The Exiles (D1) got themselves into the win column with a 36-22 bonus point victory over Baltimore-Chesapeake over the weekend. Baltimore showed up ready to play which led to them holding an 11-3 lead at halftime. According to Coach Burch “down 11-3 at half we stuck with our system and capitalized on a couple of Baltimore mistakes. Our bench stepped onto the pitch and proved to be the difference. We will enjoy the first win but understand that we have a long season ahead of us. Building on the win will be the focus.”
Tries were scored by Dan Deal (2), Pat Boyle, Joe Midwig, and Brad Volm with Brian Keown adding 4 conversions and a penalty kick. Deal was named man of the match by Coach Burch for his performance and other standout players included Keown, Volm, and Austin Lucas.
The Troop (D3) came close but weren’t able to make it two wins on the day losing 28-27 to a physical Brandywine side. After controlling possession in the early going we gave up tries on two breakaway runs to find ourselves down 14-0. The guys fought back to take a 15-14 lead before trading tries with Brandywine to find ourselves down 21-20. A late Brandywine try sealed the match but we did score on the last play of the match to salvage two bonus points.
After the match Coach Mastromatto stated that “there are a lot of positive points to take from today. To start, our veteran players James Brunson, Ryan Tower, the ageless Michael Bacon, Jeff Hall, Dave Hilley, and Eric Suchecki not only played extremely well, but also led the team on the front lines. They helped our younger players adjust quickly to the pace and physicality of Schuylkill River Rugby. Ultimately Brandywine made less mistakes and in the final 20 minutes capitalized on our turnovers which is what good teams do. Thankfully our mistakes are correctable with time and practice, and the team knows their potential to beat anybody.”
Tries were scored by the elusive Michael Bacon, Matt Hughes, Cody Bukowski, and Jabari Johnson with Ryan Tower adding 2 conversions and a penalty kick. In addition to the guys mentioned above, Coach Mastromatto singled out Aaron “Reno” Jolcover for man of the match honors for his work creating scoring opportunities out wide.
Season Scoring Totals:
Tries: Jabari Johnson (3), Michael Bacon (1), Cody Bukowski (1), Matt Hughes (1)
Cons: Ryan Tower (4)
Pens: Ryan Tower (1)
Tries: Dan Deal (2), Sean Barnes (1), Pat Boyle (1), Brian Keown (1), Joe Midwig (1), Brad Volm (1)
Cons: Keown (5)
Pens: Keown (1)