November 19, 2020
Dr. Shawn Elms
USA Rugby South traveled to New Orleans for a game against the NOLA Gold Academy on November 14. This was the first game for the Panthers since December of 2019 against the Old Glory Selects. With eight new South selections, the squad was finalized just two days before kick-off against the NOLA Academy loaded with contracted players.
Of interest were the match ups between an established and very heavy NOLA pack vs the Panthers more nimble pack and previous Panthers and current NOLA players, Shawn Riley (15) and Ross Depperschmidt (12) playing against their old mates.
The game got off to a blistering start with a length of the field intercept try from Panther winger John Truax (Chattanooga). NOLA quickly returned with a well worked phase play try. Injuries then had an influence on the match when talisman back Lucas Baistrocchi (Old White) suffered a game ending ankle injury in the 6th minute. In the same phase of play outside center Sam Trammel (Atlanta Renegades) received a crunching tackle that would break three ribs but he persisted until the half.
Quickness from NOLA’s 10, Cameron Troxler (former USA Rugby South U-19 player), created an intercept, length of the field try giving NOLA the score advantage. Overly aggressive defense from the Panthers led to a series of offside penalties which NOLA took quick advantage of by kicking down field to set up a short field and multiple scoring opportunities for Riley and the NOLA backs. William Waguespack (previous USA Rugby South tourist) and Kane Thomson gave NOLA tremendous height and experience (Thompson played in 3 world cups) in the NOLA lineout which they used to create a great platform for attack.
For USA Rugby South, Zach Miller was integral in creating offensive opportunities with kick return, stepping ability and quick taps from the fullback position. Just at the half, the Gold’s lead was narrowed to 24-17 with a penalty kick by Miller.
With 30 minutes left in the match, all the reserves had been brought on and while deep in their own half, the Gold went for a clearance kick that Zach Miller contested. The charge down bounced right back into Miller’s hands and he easily dotted the ball down for a South try. The score was then 24-24. NOLA utilized the next 15 minutes to pressure the South defense in their half and predominantly inside their 22. Subsequently, cynical play by lock Waguespack resulted in the referee showing him a yellow card, dealing a crucial blow to the Gold. The resulting kick from Miller was good and the Panthers took a 27-24 lead. After a bit of back and forth, the Gold recognized they were running out of time. The first receiver from the ruck saw daylight for a pass to the edge from inside his 10 meter line. Yousef Ali (Atlanta Renegades) immediately recognized the situation, stepped into the line for the intercept and try, sealing the match for the South 34-24.
It was an outstanding rugby match to watch and a great opportunity for USARS players to experience the speed and precision enforced by the MLR referees.
South Defensive standouts were Ethan Suznevich (7) and Reid Watkins (9) and offensive standout and Man of the Match went to Zach Miller (15 and 10).
We appreciate the hospitality of NOLA Gold in hosting this game and the time their general manager, Ryan Fitzgerald took to speak with the team Friday evening about the direction of Major League Rugby and the NOLA programs.
We don’t know when we will be able to play again but hope the summer of 2021 will allow opportunities to develop.