The Northern Virginia Rugby Club defeated Old White of Atlanta, 22-9, to win the 20th annual Cherry Blossom Rugby Festival tournament yesterday at the field next to the Lincoln Memorial.
"This feels great," said Mark Gaetjen, whose try (goal) with less than four minutes remaining gave NOVA a comfortable 18-9 lead.
NOVA advanced to the final by defeating Akron, 29-10, earlier in the day. NOVA outscored opponents, 98-32, in the two-day event.
In the women's title match, Carolina Select Side Rugby Club from North Carolina beat Washington Rugby Club, 10-4. Sixteen men's teams and eight women's teams, from Canada, France and the United States, competed in the event.
Old White, which defeated Washington Rugby Club, 11-7, to advance to the final, couldn't get started against NOVA. The winners used a productive kicking game and kept Old White's backs pinned deep in their territory.
"They have very good speed in their backs," said Old White's Tom Valley, whose three penalty kicks provided Atlanta's points. "They just were able to get the ball up faster than we could get there."
With NOVA leading, 12-6, entering the second half, both teams were so tired and hot that they slowed down and switched to defensive maneuvers. Valley's 25-yard penalty kick (worth three points) at the 15-minute mark pulled Old White within 12-9.
It stayed that way until NOVA blew it open with 3:25 left. NOVA's forwards controlled the ball and passed over to the backs who, along with Gaetjen and outside center Paul O'Connor, had developed a four-on-three break. O'Connor took the pass and fed Gaetjen, who ran five yards for the four-point score and 18-9 lead.
Less than a minute later, Gaetjen intercepted a pass and hit Charlie Wilkinson, who ran 25 yards for the final four-point try.
"We were constantly able to get the ball out of bounds where we wanted it," Gaetjen said. "When you play the majority of the game in their half of the field , you'll be in good shape."
In the women's game, Dawn Leonard's one-yard plunge and the ensuing two-point conversion gave Carolina an early 6-0 lead, and Washington never caught up.
"It basically came down to that we had stronger backs than they did," Leonard said.
Trailing by 6-4 after Cathy Anderson's try, Washington had a chance to take the lead at the half. With only seconds left in the first half, Carolina was called for a high tackling penalty and Washington had a choice between lining up four yards from the try or taking a short penalty kick. Boland took the kick but pulled it left.
"If I had it to do over again, I'd go for the try," she said later, pouring water over her face to cool down. "But I felt we should take the sure thing. Unfortunately it wasn't sure."
Carolina wing Patty Jervey intercepted a pass and scored a try on a breakaway midway through the second half, ending the scoring at 10-4.