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    Out of Touch: Crusaders in Pittsburgh

    Cleveland travelled to Pittsburgh yesterday. They brought more cold weather with them. Both teams are more than familiar with cold temperatures so it was only fitting that the the beginning of the day saw snow fall.

    At kick-off, however, things started to heat up. Cleveland began strong after receiving the opening kick-off. They would run several phases back-to-back; little by little moving the gain line forward. Then an off-side penalty went in favor of the Crusaders. A quick kick to find touch and suddenly Cleveland was in good attacking position. From there a solid combination of strong runs from forwards and agility from the backs and the Crusaders went up 7 to 0.

    Then it was the Harlequins turn. In similar fashion the Quins moved the gain line forward led by fly-half Brandon Stine and center Simione Nacaucauceva. In the end it was Simi who put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard after a huge line break took him all the way to the in-goal. Hooker Frank LeDonne tacked on the conversion kick to tie the game at 7 all.

    An even first half continued to see back and forth play for multiple possessions. Both sides saw good attacking opportunities before handling errors cut them short. At one point the Crusaders were awarded a breakdown penalty just outside their attacking twenty-two. They opted for a penalty goal, but it went wide left by a slim margin.

    A few minutes later and the Quins were put in the same position. For his part, LeDonne slotted the penalty goal right down the middle to give Pittsburgh the lead 10 to 7.

    As the first half drew to a close, Cleveland saw one final attacking opportunity. Strong runs from the forward pack did well to draw in Harlequins defenders. Diagnosing space on the wings, the Crusaders spun the ball out wide where it was too little too late for Pittsburgh to put the ball carrier to the deck. Cleveland held the lead at half time 14 to 10.

    More even play throughout the second half. Despite Pittsburgh receiving the opening kick-off, the Crusaders regained possession shortly thereafter. Another promising attack put them inside their attacking twenty-two once more. Then a Quins defender was called for a breakdown penalty while contesting a ruck. Cleveland once again opted to kick for points. This time there was no stopping them as they took the lead 17 to 10.

    Then Pittsburgh caught their stride for a promising attacking sequence. Near mid-field the ball went from the previous ruck to #10 Stine and then immediately to flanker Zack Cochin who found the perfect seam within the Crusaders defensive line. Capitalizing on the line break Pittsburgh’s center and 8-man, Lamont Gadson and Elijah Byrd respectively pushed the gain line all the way within the five meter line. From there the ball came to second row Zack Jessell who would not be stopped as he dotted the ball down. Another excellent spot of kicking from LeDonne tied the match at 17 all.

    The Quins retained possession following the ensuing kick-off. Doing well to play balanced rugby between forwards and backs, the Quins’ forwards were never over-worked between a few phases of straight-up running complemented with solid ball movement along the exterior lanes of the field. In the end another big line break from Simi plus LeDonne’s conversion made the score 24 to 17.

    As the match drew to a close, the Crusaders would not simply roll over. They put together one final attacking possession as time waned. They showed the importance of fitness in the forward pack and strength on the wings. As they pushed the gain line forward they kept the Quins playing on their back foot. Cleveland’s final attack was too much for Pittsburgh as they tied the game just before the last whistle blew. Final score Pittsburgh 24 – 24 Cleveland.

    The Harlequins are back in action next week (4/14) for their final regular season conference match against the Norfolk Blues here in Pittsburgh. We hope to see you then.

    Out of Touch: Harlequins in Norfolk

    From Western Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Ocean. It is quite the trip to make. In fact it is the longest road trip that the Quins make for conference play. This weekend has also been the first time that Pittsburgh has taken the pitch against an opponent in several months.

    Perhaps this accounts for the slow start the Quins would take against the Norfolk Blues. Sparks of efficient ball movement continuously put Pittsburgh in good attacking position, however unforced handling errors and breakdown penalties cost possession time and time again as the match wore on.

     

    On the other hand, the Blues, with the combination of a punishing forward pack and swift backline were able to spread the Quins out of good defensive position. This left plenty of gaps in the Pittsburgh line and Norfolk exploited the vulnerabilities well.

    This pattern continued throughout the match. Both teams would trade sustained attacking sequences back and forth, but Pittsburgh would give away possession before reaching the try line while the Blues were able to get over the line.

    At the end of the first half the score was 15 – 0 in favor of the home team.

    In the second half there was plenty to be happy with for the Harlequins. The different components of the attacking shape began to establish themselves more. The ball was able to move which spread the Norfolk defense out and generated attacking space.

    If there were things to be happy with there were more things with which to be dissatisfied. A lack of defensive communication meant the Quins bunched up on defense instead of spreading the width of the field. Pittsburgh’s tackling form was too often timid and the defense as a whole struggled to hit the Norfolk attack with pace in a flat line.

    In the end, prop Jake Smith scored or assisted on both of the Harlequins tries. For the first received the ball with pace about 5 meters from the in goal. Multiple Blues defenders were required to bring him to the deck, but as he fell forward he delivered a great pass to lock Zack Jessell who dotted the ball down. A few minutes later the ball went wide for a good game of keep away with the Norfolk side. Ball movement kept the attack moving forward before Smith got the ball again. This time no one would bring him down. Flyhalf Ted Sheedy would convert the try for the final play of the game.

    The final score Norfolk 36 – 12 Pittsburgh.

    The Quins are on the road again next week (3/24) to take on the Cincinnati Wolfhounds in their neck of the woods.