On October 26, 2013, the Arkansas Gryphons were set to play their biggest conference rivals, the Wichita Barbarians. For the last three years, matches between the two have teams have been nothing less than intense, brutal, and evenly balanced. Sunny skies, mild temperatures, and a dry pitch were the only things left between to the two clubs.
The first half proved to be a battle of ball possession for both teams. Wichita looked to gain ground with their forwards, letting them bang the ball forward. Flanker Tony George had an impressive stiff arm, but the Grpyhons’ defense denied him the breakaway he so eagerly sought. The Barbarians showed good fundamental rugby, moving the ball evenly between their backs and forwards. Center Dustin Fross helped with that facilitation, contributing some lavish runs of own. Fullback Tim Dihn’s keen vision, allowed him to find holes in Arkansas’s defensive line, no matter how small. He was able to make the first man miss on a few occasions, but Arkansas always recovered and limited his contribution to the team.
The Gryphons came out with a similar game plan. They facilitated the ball well between hands and showed great run-support. The forwards were able to suck-in Barbarian defenders, enabling scrumhalf Tucker Shaw to send possession to the back line. Both teams were able to progress the ball, but once inside the opposing twenty-two, both teams’ defenses locked down and kept points off the board. Scrums and lineouts were steadily opposed and each team felt the sting of unfortunate turnovers and penalties. With time winding down in the first half, the Barbarians were deep in their own territory, but able to make progress. Their forwards moved the ball up the left side of the field, then quickly to the right, under the assumption they had an advantage in numbers. Closing the gate, Gryphon winger Jeremy Marshall-Johnson intercepted a Barbarian pass, juked and jived his way 40 meters up the pitch, breaking six Barbarian tackles, posting the match’s first five points. The half ended 7-0, favoring the Gryphons, with help from a converted kick from center Dan Cook.
The first twenty minutes of the second half played out very similarly to the first. Hard running and solid team play from both clubs. Wichita seemed to be slowly gaining momentum. They were able to steal lineouts and cause disruption in the scrums. They worked their way down the field and put the Gryphons into a goal-line defense. The Barbarians moved the ball back and forth, finally finding their way across the try line, but was held up by Gryphon 8-man, David Robertson.
Putting in a few fresh legs, the Gryphons looked to add to their lead and finish the match strong. Rookies Mike Wright and Joe Witherington came in delivering authoritative tackles. Witherington, known for his open-field tackles, added another, allowing Dan Cook to poach the ball and make his way up the pitch. Running in support was flyhalf Caleb Reed, who dove into the corner of the try zone.
Wichita’s Dinh made a move and put the Barbarians on the board. With five minutes left in the game, Wichita had possession, down 12-5, and were knocking on the door. Play picked up with a Wichita scrum, five meters away from a game-tying try. The Barbarians tried bangers, switches, loops, skips, and kicks, but good Gryphon communication and one-on-one tackling kept them from scoring as time ran out.
Through head coach Jason Ayers, the Gryphons have trained relentlessly on playing an individual role to create a better team. With a committed group of athletes, the Gryphons have grown each match and made remarkable headway in achieving that goal.
Written by players, David Robertson and Matt Mathis.
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