Rugby Rules! Men’s and Women’s Clubs Win U.S. Titles

Quick Summary

  • Men’s sport club repeats as Division 1AA champion
  • Women’s club beats Virginia to claim spring championship
  • Erica Hipp scores tie-breaking try at the final whistle

Wow! What a weekend for UC Davis’ rugby sport clubs: The men’s team repeated as Division 1AA national champion and the women’s team captured its own national title the same day in the USA Rugby College 15s National Championships.

Our ‘Eternal Champion’

Nearly 100 years before UC Davis rugby clubs were winning national championships, an Aggie alumnus by the name of Colby E. “Babe” Slater was winning gold medals in rugby in the 1920 and ’24 Olympic Games. You can learn more about him in a Shields Library exhibition (opening May 20 and running until the end of the year) drawn from the University Library’s Colby E. “Babe” Slater Collection. The library also is completing a website (a preview is available now) on Slater and his Olympics experience, UC Davis rugby and the sport’s return to the Olympics, this summer, after a 92-year absence (dating back to Slater’s second gold medal).

The 15-to-a-side championships — five games in all — took place May 7 at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. Aggie fans turned out in force, given the fact Moraga is less than 70 miles from Davis.

The Aggie women defeated the University of Virginia, 30-25, for the Division I spring championship, and they did so in thrilling fashion when Erica Hipp beat a half-dozen defenders as she busted a 50-meter run en route to a tie-breaking try (score) — all with no time left on the clock (more about that later).

The Aggie men also won on a late score, defeating the Falcons of Notre Dame College of South Euclid, Ohio.

The first half looked to be all Notre Dame, with the Falcons leading 8-0 and taking over on offense late in the period after grabbing an errant Aggie kick, according to USA Rugbys online story.

The Aggies, determined to avoid a first-half shutout, chased down and dragged the Falcons into touch (out of bounds, at the sideline), then won the lineout (the throw-in from touch). With the in-goal area just 10 meters away, Ryan Morgan chipped the ball over the defensive line and beat out a Falcon in diving for the ball at the try line. The conversion was good, and with that the Aggies had cut their deficit to 8-7 going into the break.

UC Davis men's rugby.
The Aggies of UC Davis: Division 1AA national champions for the second year in a row. (Photo by Karen Drinkwater/USA Rugby)

The Aggies kept “their newfound momentum going into the second half,” according to USA Rugby, which gave this account of the try that gave UC Davis the lead, 12-8. “The Aggies were ready when the Falcons dropped the ball in the 50th minute, with Niall Smith toeing it from the Notre Dame 22 to the in-goal area. He chased, but it was teammate Joshua Farnsworth who reached it first for the go-ahead score.”

The Falcons regained the lead, 13-12, and the Aggie team — just like in last year’s title game against the Knights of the University of Central Florida — found itself facing defeat with 10 minutes to go.

But there would be no Aggie defeat — not last year, not this year. “The Aggies caught the Falcons napping when a penalty had been called,” according to Rugby Today's game report. “Farnsworth quick-tapped the ball and made a run at the line before passing to freshman Maia Silva. Silva made for the corner, but made a timely cut back inside to evade his defender and get the try.”

Then the defense took over — Rugby Today called it “solid,” the Goff Rugby Report called it “superb” — to keep Notre Dame at bay the last five minutes of the game. 

“I think it’s quite an accomplishment,” UC Davis head coach Kal Incendy told USA Rugby, speaking of his team’s second title in two years. “They dig deep. We practiced and preached competitive excellence — knowing and being able to dig deep when we need it — all year, and that’s what these guys did.”

Lock forward Ian McCarthy earned most valuable player honors. The Goff Rugby Report described him as “hugely influential not only in the set piece but in open play.”

The UC Davis women's rugby team.
Aggie Pride! The Division I national champions for spring 2016. (Photo by UC Davis Women's Rugby)

Women ‘rise to the occasion’

Hipp’s game-winning try came at the very last second — and then some, considering regulation time had elapsed (when watching the video you will see the clock is stopped at 80:00). In rugby, though, the game keeps going until the ball goes dead, say, when it goes into touch or after a conversion try or penalty kick.

“We said all season, we always wanted a challenge,” said Gary Gordon, one of the teams two coaches (the other is Kai Neevel), as quoted by USA Rugby. And what better way to put an exclamation mark on the season than to be challenged like that.”

Each team considered itself undersized, so both took advantage of pace and space on the wing early and often,” according to USA Rugby’s game story.

Erica Hipp scores on the game-winning try.
Erica Hipp finds an opening for her tie-breaking, game-winning try. (Photo by Karen Drinkwater/USA Rugby)

The report describes the first two scores: “Cavaliers outside center Summer Harris-Jones beat several defenders on a lateral run from 10 meters out in the second minute, and Davis fullback Carli Watt broke the gain line five minutes later before offloading to wing Diana Nguyen for a burst of speed and try in the corner.” With neither team converting, the score was 5-5.

Rebecca Lehman gave the Aggies an 8-5 lead in the eighth minute with a penalty goal, and Virginia came back with two tries for a 15-8 lead. Hipp’s first try of the game cut Virginia’s lead to 15-13 at the break.

The Cavaliers came out strong in the second half, scoring twice to take a 25-13 lead. The Aggies hung in. “To not give up, and rise to the occasion was spectacular,” coach Gordon told USA Rugby.

Indeed, “Davis swung the momentum back in its favor immediately, with the forwards setting up Nguyen by winning a scrum 5 meters from the try line. Lehman converted the try for a 25-20 score line.”

“Much like the men’s team earlier in the day, the women of Davis took control and won its championship match in the final 10 minutes,” USA Rugby reported. “The Cavaliers conceded a penalty with ball in hand trying to get out of their 22, and Sydnee Watanabe smartly played the tap to get to the line before the defenders,” tying the score at 25 with five minutes remaining.

“Davis’ momentum was momentarily halted with a knock on the restart, but stout defensive play and clinical work in the tackle area led to Harris-Jones' conceding a penalty,” according to USA Rugby. The Aggies used the possession to work their way to midfield, where Lehman passed to Hipp, who then “timed her run just right” to beat the defenders to the in-goal area. The Aggies won the game and Hipp, with two tries on the day, earned MVP honors.

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