Albany opened it's 2013 NERFU season with a win at home against Providence Rugby on Sunday.
The Knicks got off to a 19-3 lead in the first half with tries from Murphy Lil, Sean Mertz (converted by Tom Breslin), and Philip Ayoreh (converted by Breslin). In an all-too-familiar scenario however, much of that lead was squandered when the Knicks gave up a converted try with less than 5 minutes to go in the half, making the halftime score 19-10.
The Knicks got off to a quick start in the second half, with a try from fullback Scottie Bergen (converted by Breslin). This promising start was not maintained, and defensive lapses saw the Knicks quickly give up two converted tries, reducing Albany's lead to 2 points, 26-24, with most of the half left to play.
Soon however, the early signs of fatigue shown by Providence's big forwards transformed into a defensive collapse, and it seemed that every line-break or counterattack from Albany resulted in a try. Scottie Bergen ran in his second, followed by one from Steve Arango (converted by Breslin), a second from Murph (converted by Breslin), one from David O'Neill (converted by Breslin), and finally Sean Mertz's second (converted by Breslin).
Providence managed one more converted try late in the second, to bring the final score to 59-31.
There were several players who put in good performances for the Knicks. Tommy's kicking was excellent after an early miscue, and he hit multiple touchline conversions. Jesse put in a typically excellent defensive performance, with aggressive tackling early on disrupting any chance for Providence to establish their forward running game. Murphy Lil seemed to have a sixth sense, picking off passes and collecting loose balls. Most often when something went amiss for Providence, Murph was there. Murphy's law, anyone?
The man of the match was Scottie Bergen at fullback. ALL of his counterattacks were effective. A very large portion of the Knicks' second-half tally came off of his breaks. He was at the center of what Albany did well in this match, which was exploit and score from counterattacks and turnovers.
Not everything went well for the Knicks. Albany's defensive performance was erratic at best. Many of Providence's points came from Albany failing to maintain a cohesive defensive line. Most often Albany's mistake was not advancing to tackle Providence's players at or behind the gain line. One try in particular came soon after a tapped penalty where Providence's runners started fully 10 meters behind the mark (20 meters between the two teams). Instead of closing off space and meeting the runners at the gain line, Albany's defenders advanced only about 2 meters, giving away territory, momentum, and front-foot ball, which was soon turned into points.
Albany's other weakness was rucking. Often Albany's body position in rucks was simply terrible, resulting in turnovers, slow ball, penalties, and too many players committed to rucks.
The result of this match is promising for Albany, particularly the total commitment to counterattacks that resulted in so many points in the second half. The best teams in the world set themselves apart by ruthlessly exploiting their opponents' mistakes, and Albany would do well to follow their example.
Let's keep training hard and fix our problems. Our opponents will be much tougher on the 7th.