Bentley Rugby headed to national championship for second straight season

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By Benjamin Klein

After coming home early last season from the National Championship the Bentley men’s rugby team was determined to make it back to for a second straight season. After a successful fall season, including a Northeast Rugby Championship, the No. 17 nationally-ranked Falcons clinched a spot in the 2012 National Championship this upcoming weekend in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“We had a sour taste after our loss at Nationals last season to South Florida,” said junior scrum half Jon Renz. “We wanted to make sure that we would be more prepared for this season so we have been training outdoors since February.”

Bentley plays in the newly formed Northeast Rugby conference that was established in the winter of 2011. The conference is comprised of mainly Northeast-10 teams but also includes several schools within the New England area as well. Bentley, along with AIC, Merrimack, Saint Michaels, Saint Anselm, Stonehill, Providence and UMass Lowell, make up the eight-team conference.

The team, led by junior backs captain Max Smith and senior forwards captain Chris Higgins, started the fall season with a 35-0 shutout over St. Anselm and then a 55-5 blowout victory over St. Michael’s. After a 22-11 loss to AIC, the Falcons went on to win four straight games and earned a berth into the conference championship.

The Falcons were supposed to take on AIC but they had five of their wins vacated due to playing with ineligible and non-registered players. Bentley already defeated their new opponent, the Providence Friars, a week earlier 32-11 and was again looking for the same result. The Falcons would manage to top the Friars for the second straight weekend 30-8 and were crowned the Rugby Northeast champions. With the conference championship victory, Bentley automatically qualified for the National Championship.

“It was big for our team to win the Rugby Northeast in its first season,” said Smith. “It guaranteed us a spot at Nationals so we’re looking to prove that we’re better than how we played last year when we went.”

The Falcons then had four players named to the All-Conference team including senior hooker Kevin Raftery, junior tight head prop Oisin O’Donnelly, senior flyhalf Spencer McKenna and junior outside center Max Smith. Juniors Doug Goodhile and Michael Fafara were named honorable mentions.

Bentley faced a very strong schedule going into the spring, lined up to play four Division I teams with hopes of facing better competition before the National Championship. “We set up a really tough schedule for the spring,” said McKenna. “We wanted to prepare ourselves for the teams that we’d be seeing at Nationals. It helped us a lot and I think we’re in good shape going into this weekend.”

Bentley fell to Division I Brown in their spring opener 30-15 but looked to respond with a strong performance at the Business Bowl. With Babson unable to compete, the Business Bowl title would be determined based off Bentley’s matchup against Bryant. The Falcons erupted for a 39-7 victory over Bryant to claim the championship.

From there Bentley defeated Division I teams of Southern Connecticut 31-19 and Albany 35-33. The Falcons’ impressive two-game win streak would end with the defeat at Division I Boston College 38-32 despite making a huge second half run. Bentley then took down Division I Dartmouth’s developmental team 64-26 in their regular-season finale. The Falcons also partook in several 7s matches throughout the semester.

“Southern is a very physical team and it’s definitely one of the biggest wins we’ve had all season,” said Renz. “They play a lot like the teams that we’ll be seeing this weekend. Even though the win was big, we lost key players in [junior eight-man] Doug [Goodhile] and [junior locke] Phil [Whittaker] for the rest season who have been hard to replace.”

At the National Championship Bentley will take on No. 18 Colgate in the opening round this Saturday at 9 a.m. If Bentley advances, they will play the winner of No. 12 Boston University and Towson on Sunday at 9 a.m. The losers of both matchups will play on Sunday at 11 a.m. If Bentley can advance past the quarterfinals, they would move on to play in the Final Four in Sandy, Utah on May 18 and 19.

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