RATL Claim Fire and Ice Cup
The 80th minute had already passed when Ross Deacon crashed over the whitewash to give Rugby ATL the 33-29 win and claim the inaugural Fire and Ice Cup. For a Cup that seems to have a Game of Thrones-ish name, the match seemed to have some parallels to the show. The beginning saw the team from the North unexpectedly down a man early, plenty of emotional highs, plenty of emotional lows, physical battles throughout, moments of absolute brilliance, and we all wish the ending was better.
The match got off to a rough start for the Arrows as Andrew Quattrin was promptly sent to the bin for pulling down a maul that looked destined for a try. RATL made the next maul count as Marko Janse van Rensburg dotted down the opening try of the match. While Quattrin was in the bin, the Arrows responded with two unusual tries.
Mike Sheppard charged down an Adriaan Carelse clearance attempt and pounced on the ball in the in-goal area. Carelse offered up a second gift as a poor pass bounced into the hands of Leandro Leivas and he began a counter attack that saw Ben LeSage score their second try in just two minutes.
For the rest of the half, Rugby ATL’s impressive line speed and immense physicality caused plenty of problems for the Arrows. Canadian captain Matt Heaton led the charge as the Arrows attack failed to generate anything beyond those two quick strike tries created off RATL mistakes. Every time an Arrow touched the ball, they were promptly met by RATL play, often Heaton, Jason Damm, Johan Momsen, Mark O’Keeffe, Janse van Rensburg, or anyone on the squad really.
The intense defense forced the Arrows to try kicking to gain territory, but Carelse did well to ensure that RATL controlled over 70% territory in the opening half.
The line speed, possession, and territory would begin to pay off for RATL. Damm scored a try off a scrum right in front of the posts then O’Keeffe scooped up a loose ball after a Momsen hit on Lucas Rumball and dashed for the corner. RATL would take a 19-14 lead into the half.
The second half had a familiar start as Janse van Rensburg scored off another driving maul. Despite the two tries allowed off the lineout-maul, the Arrows lineup did look much better, and even managed to cause a few disruptions for RATL.
As the game wore on the Arrows’ attack began to show cracks in RATL’s physical defense. Pete Smith’s creative attack structure began to shine through. Off a lineout, Tayler Adams got by the RATL line speed with a cheeky chip kick that LeSage gathered as the Arrows’ got by that quick line speed. This created a mismatch as Carelse was left to defend LeSage, Leivas, and Gastón Mieres charging toward the tryline. Mieres would score in the corner. Over the next few possessions, the fear of that chip kick seemed to back the RATL line speed off a tad.
The Arrows’ started to gain more possession and territory as they began having success working through phases. The forwards did well to meet the physical challenge RATL’s defense had brought to them. Tomás de la Vega eventually spotted a gap next to the ruck and dotted down a try. Adams’ conversion would tie the game.
The Arrows began seeing success with ball in hand as the inside ball and other well-placed passes started generating a line break or two. De la Vega nearly had another try after some good ball movement, but his foot was in touch. Adams would slot a penalty to give the Arrows a 29-26 lead with just five minutes to play.
The Arrows defense throughout the match was solid. The Three tries they conceded came off of the set piece, and one try off a quick turnover. However, RATL was finding difficulty getting past the Arrows’ defense in open play.
Ultimately, there was a good amount of kicking in this game. De la Vega was particularly huge for the Arrows in defense once again. In the final five minutes the Arrows’ defense constantly drove RATL backwards. They were well disciplined as they were finally able to force a turnover through Spencer Jones and Tyler Rowland knocking the ball loose from Robbie Petzer’s hands.
That knock-on resulted in a scrum with just a minute remaining on the clock. Now what happens next can probably be argued one of two ways. Either Diana ran too far away from his support off the back of the scrum, or Heaton and Deacon made a brilliant play to steal the ball back. Perhaps a combination of the two. The steal gave RATL one last shot and Deacon made in count by scoring the game winning try.
Ultimately, this is another game where the Arrows’ performance in one half is significantly better than the other. However, in this case, I think the first half has a lot more to do with RATL playing some great, physical rugby (especially on defense), than the Arrows’ playing poorly. The second half showed what the club could do once they were able to adjust to the line speed, and reserves such as Rowland and Pat Lynott upped the physicality on the Arrows end.
The last scrum may be looked at, especially since you need to close out games from that situation. I will add though that I absolutely love the call from Heaton to go for the win instead of the tie. Even if it doesn’t work out, you have to love that mindset in a team. RATL will walk away with the first ever Fire and Ice Cup, while the Arrows may feel they let one slip through their fingers.
The Arrows will look to bounce back next week against the Houston SaberCats.