The representative MCAA All-American side opened their three-game tour around the North-East of the USA with a stop-start display against Cambridge University, England.
Despite the margin of victory, 27 points to 15, appearing to be rather comfortable, the MCAA were forced to scrap for every move and metre as Cambridge continually foiled attacking efforts through excellent defensive pressure throughout. Despite perfect conditions, defence dominated the entire encounter, resulting in a game with no real structure or flow; however, this is not to say it didnâ€™t make for entertaining viewing.
For those who are unfamiliar with the format of the MCAA, 33 players are selected, regardless of nationality, and recognised as being the best collegiate (university) players in their position in the USA. The slightly confusing title of â€˜All-Americansâ€™ bears no resemblance to the mixed nationality of the players on show: representatives ranged from England to New Zealand. The MCAA were led by USA Eagles Sevens star Madison Hughes, who himself went to school at Wellington College, England.
The match began with a ferocious intensity from the MCAA, quickly taking the lead (which they would not relinquish) through scrum-half Niku Kruger. This was shortly followed by Kingsley McGowanâ€™s converted try, after a period of sustained pressure by the All-Americans, allowing the hosts to open up a substantial early lead of 10-0. Nigel Conroy then got the light blues of Cambridge on the board with a simple penalty after 20 minutes, however the momentum swing was short-lived: MCAA prop Paris Hollis barreled over a couple of would-be tacklers in a trademark display of the physicality and strength American collegiate rugby is so renowned for. The try was converted to give the All-Americans an imposing 17-3 half time lead, which, with their defence holding fast in the face of what looked a fairly uninspired attack, one could have been forgiven for not expecting much different in the second half.
Cambridge, however, clearly werenâ€™t here to make up the numbers, and emerged from the cool of the changing rooms determined to take advantage of the perfect conditions in Hanover. It wasnâ€™t through an intricate backs move that the MCAA line was penetrated though: Jacob Foulton touched down a totally dominant five-metre driving scrum to put Cambridge back into things. The All-Americans then once again threw away a golden opportunity to score; this time, though, they were punished. Ex-Dartmouth graduate and former MCAA representative Nate Brakeley found a hole in the previously impenetrable MCAA defence to touch down and bring the game back to a two-point margin at 17-15. However, the physicality of the MCAA eventually proved too much for the light blues to handle, as first openside Vili Tolutaâ€™u, and then Hollis, crossed for two tries that put the game out of the touristsâ€™ reach. Hollisâ€™ try was particularly deserved, the crowd on their feet as the loosehead rumbled in from halfway, compounding an excellent all-round performance from himself personally, and the largely dominant MCAA forwards. The final score of 27-15 in favour of the MCAA was probably a fair reflection of the game, as captain Madison Hughes suggested.
â€œPlaying on the wing was quite frustrating for me â€“ I think I touched the ball about three times, and twice it was kicked to me! â€“ but itâ€™s always immensely satisfying to get a big win playing for the All-Americans. It was quite a big adjustment for me in switching to the wing, as I play at full-back here at Dartmouth, but I always enjoy clashes like this, and luckily we were able to put in a good performanceâ€.
Head coach Matt Sherman added his words of congratulation to the side:
â€œPlaying for the MCAA is a massive honour, and I really think the players stepped up today. Our physicality put Cambridge under pressure, but thereâ€™s still a lot to work on before our return fixtureâ€.
The two sides meet again in Boston on Wednesday, 25th June, in what promises to be a tremendously exciting and hard-fought finish to Cambridgeâ€™s USA tour.
By Will Wilson
Reporting from Dartmouth, 21st July 2014