Pygmys not quite ready
The New Mexico Tech men’s rugby club could only manage one drawn match alongside two losses in the 15th annual Celtic Sevens tournament in Albuquerque on May 18. A group of Pygmy players new to the seven-man game didn’t manage a point until their third contest of the day, a long awaited reunion with old rivals University of Texas at El Paso.
The Celtic Sevens are staged in conjunction with the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park. The event offers championships in both high school and collegiate/open divisions for women and men on Saturday, plus youth competition on Sunday. The seven-member team format, played on a regulation 70 x 100 meter pitch, is the same that will mark the return of rugby to Olympic competition in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
While collegiate teams freshly released from school are always challenged to field teams for this annual end-of-season competition, 2013 proved especially tough for Tech due to a wedding that drew marquee players Isaiah Sanchez, Enrique Koerdell and others elsewhere the day of the tournament.
A Pygmy team thus unaccustomed to the strategies and pacing of “sevens” played tentatively in their morning match against an alumni team from the University of New Mexico, losing 24-0. Two hours later a powerful team from the Albuquerque Aardvarks men’s club breezed past the students, 45-0. The score failed to reflect Tech’s improvement as Hugh Tye-Dias created a spark with his aggressive ball-carrying. The students mounted two sustained attacks during the 14-minute match but could not get over the line before eventually turning over possession each time.
NMT faced the University of Texas at El Paso for the first time in several years in the closing pool match. Also scoreless following two matches, UTEP took the lead after only 90 seconds when an unmarked player shot between two defenders and scored from 50 meters. The two-point conversion kick was good for an early 7-0 lead.
At four minutes Tech finally got on the scoreboard after some nice team passing set Alex Malone free on the outside. The Socorro native and part-time boxer crossed the try line in the corner and then wisely ran behind the goal posts before touching down to allow himself an easy conversion kick that tied the scores for the first time. Jordan Fastle sidestepped a defender to strike again for Tech after six minutes, and his kick put the Pygmies up 14-7.
It looked like Tech had salted away the win when Malone again finished a try after outstanding support play by his teammates brought the ball the length of the field. Significantly, however, Malone’s conversion kick went under the bar.
Trailing 19-7 at the half, UTEP bore down and capitalized on Tech handling miscues in the final period. One converted try from a change in ball possession after one minute narrowed the deficit to 19-14. With less than two minutes remaining, the Texans again stole the ball and after several lateral passes exploited a gap in Tech’s line. The resulting conversion attempt was missed however, leaving the scores aptly even at 19 as the final whistle sounded.
Tech’s Pygmies will resume the celebration of their 40th year of competition upon resumption of classes in August 2013. The club faces a challenge in replacing a plethora of graduating seniors and departing graduate students.