For Ridgefield rugby team, drop leads to spot in state finals

With many of its best players graduating at the end of last season, the Ridgefield High rugby club team faced a decision for 2018: Stay with the state's top teams in Division 1 or drop down to Division 2.

The Tigers opted for the latter, and the result was a run to the state finals.

“We graduated a number of talented players last spring, and knew we would be really young,” said Ridgefield head coach Pete McLean. “We felt that submitting these young players to a D1 schedule would set the program back if we really struggled, and would be frankly dangerous for the younger players."

Ridgefield's bid for a championship fell short, as the Tigers lost to Fairfield Prep, 43-35, in the recent Division 2 state finals at Wilton High School.

“Tough way to finish the season,” said Ridgefield head coach Pete McLean, whose team went 8-2 overall this spring. “Both teams played spirited rugby…”

Ahead 36-35, Prep converted a late try to end the scoring in a game that included four lead changes.

Prep went up 10-0 in the first half on two strong tries by its back line. Ridgefield responded with some powerful forward play and scored two converted tries to go ahead 14-10.

After Prep took a 17-14 lead, the Tigers scored again to go in front, 21-17.

But the Jesuits took advantage of a 10-minute man advantage (due to a yellow card for Ridgefield) and went ahead to stay.

The loss was Ridgefield’s first to a Division 2 opponent this year; the Tigers had beaten Prep, 33-20, in a regular-season match May 5.

Ridgefield entered the postseason with a 6-0 record in Division 2 and had outscored the opposition, 242-86.

“I think the two most important factors in our success this season were a very cohesive and committed senior class, and a team that truly played for each other,” said McLean, whose team routed Southington, 53-7, in the state semifinals. “The motto for this year was ‘play for the guy on your left and your right.’ The boys really took this to heart and it was evident in our results and the style of play we displayed.

“I think in some respects our performance exceeded expectations, but we stayed really healthy all season and we were able to build our confidence each week.”

McLean is not sure if Ridgefield will return to Division 1 next year or stay in Division 2.

“Whether we go back up to D1 next year is still a program decision,” he said. “We will be graduating 12 senior starters, so this will have to be considered.

“The focus of our program is to teach these boys both the game and the culture of rugby,” continued McLean. “This is a lifelong sport, played not just through high school and college but into adult years. If these guys go out and get beat up every week, they will never develop the love for the game that we, as coaches, have.  We want these players to come to every game and practice excited to be able to play rugby and compete successfully.”

Notes: Ridgefield’s roster included John Schneider, Shaun Pastor, Rob Scialo, Pete Behnke, Jackson Trotter, Connor Goff, Liam Keppler, Alex Colon, Finn Meachem, Matt Lombardo, Brendan Gleeson, Luc Aussavis, Ian Austin, Pete Stokes, Nick Coku, Sam Klotz, Ryan Canavan, Tyler Greene, and Lou Vucci.