Big Win Leaves The Aviators Short
Pro Rugby League Coverage by Chase Thompson for Columbus Wired
Sunday’s game was a story of two different Aviator teams. There was the team that played from kick off with a sense of urgency and played hard and played smart. Then about the 21st minute, that team was replaced by a tense and turnover happy team from the beginning of the year. Then in the final 5 minutes the team from the start of the game returned and pushed us to a big home win to keep the unbeaten streak at Memorial Park alive…… sort of.
Even with the win, Ohio lost the inaugural championship to a two loss team in Denver (Note: Both to Ohio). And it was a heartbreaker because they only won the championship by a single point. ONE POINT. The seven point loss gave Denver the bonus they needed. An eight point or higher win would have tied it at the top and Ohio held the tiebreakers. So Sunday was a mix of smiles, cheers and a somewhat empty feeling.
Now before everyone stops reading because they think this is going to be a bash on the team, you’re wrong. In all honesty, Aviator fans should still celebrate. The fact is that after a horrendous start to the year in the kicking game, and the loss of young star-to-be JP Eloff, our home team was still only a single point out of winning the championship. This team was still loaded with all kinds of talent, and they out performed the expectations from the start of the season. Obetz is still a fortress and remains an extremely hostile place for opposing teams (For example: Everyone’s favorite announcer makes the other teams ears bleed from his comments).
Typically I highlight the big performances of the day, but honestly every player had his share of troubles, from yellow cards to a seemingly endless stream of turnovers (Seriously, Denver had 82% of possession the whole game, which is almost unheard of). The lineouts were messy at times, and the scrum was semi-disastrous with the amount of penalties coming from the set piece. The team as a whole was slow to the rucks and that allowed Denver to either force the turnover or make the ball sloppy and slow. “We weren’t good enough at the breakdown today, at all. They dominated that area.” Paul Holmes said in post-game remarks. To note, the forwards led the way with scoring off of mauls and strong play inside the 5 meter line, including a stunning drive and score by Riekert Hattingh in extra time to secure the win for the Aviators.
I hate the saying “there’s always next year”, but the statement rings true for this team. If they stay healthy (knock on wood), this team seems to be right back in the top of the leaderboard next year. The defense was strong and at times the offense looked to be on another planet, and this team has time to gather itself and grow closer for next season’s run at the title. Things got fun, and that leaves some very interesting questions for next year. With the extremely strong play of Taylor Howden this year, who comes into next year in the Fly-Half position? Is there any team more athletic than the Aviators? Can any team stop the Ohio offense, other than ourselves? Should Spike Davis grow the beard back? Simply put, right now this empty feeling sucks but next year looks to put that feeling to rest.
Oh, and you’re welcome for me giving you the chance to buy advance tickets to Sunday’s game since I called it back at the start of the season.
Til next season rugby fans!