Dartmouth heads to its second-consecutive National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) National Championship, having defeated Army West Point 26-7 in today’s semifinals. The Big Green trailed the Black Knights 7-5 at halftime and spent 10 minutes with a player disadvantage, but relied on a stellar defense to produce the second-half turn-around.
Dartmouth will now play the winner of Quinnipiac vs. Harvard on Sunday for the national title. Watch live on ESPN+.
Army knocked on the opening kickoff and the next eight minutes stayed in the Black Knights’ end. As Dartmouth built toward its first try, the slippery turf and finger-numbing conditions established themselves as the most influential factors on the day. It was tough to hold onto the ball, both in the air and in tight, and the speed with which both teams typically play suffered from the slick pitch.
Nevertheless, the teams’ strengths were able to show themselves early on. When the ball moved wide, Dartmouth attacked space and was better connected, although Army did well to corral many attempts out wide into touch. The Black Knights deployed a diligent kicking game throughout the match, and McKenzie Borchers was the general there.
Eventually, however, Dartmouth wing Ariana Ramsay got enough room to get an inch within of the try zone, and outside center Emily Henrich was in tight on support and finished off the score, 5-0.
Army returned the favor after the restart, as some aggressive, fast-up defense put the pressure on Dartmouth to exit its end. After a stolen lineout, Borchers placed a beauty of a penalty kick to Dartmouth’s five meter, and the Black Knights went to work. During a pick-and-go drive, the referee put his hand up for a penalty advantage in Army’s favor, and when Dartmouth held up a dive-over attempt, the home side assumed it would reset for a five-meter scrum. Instead, Army No. 8 Naomi Colin smartly quick-tapped from the mark, confusing the defense, and drew the penalty try, 7-5.
Dartmouth was a player down for 10 minutes, and although its scrum suffered, the team did incredibly well to prevent any more points against. That in itself was a boost, and the half ended with Dartmouth attacking in Army’s end.
Dartmouth returned to the pitch determined, and the defense absolutely set the tone. A hard press sent Army retreating into its own end and eventually produced a turnover. The ball moved wide to Ramsey, who tore away for what was going to be a 50-meter try. But the wing accidentally placed a foot on the back touchline, resulting in a 22 drop. But the Big Green was in good territory now. Not long afterward Dartmouth disrupted Army’s scrum, stole possession, and moved it to replacement Karina Martinez, who doggedly pumped her legs and dragged the defense into the try zone, 12-7 with Camille Johnson’s conversion.
Dartmouth kept pressuring and Army remained diligent in its kicking game, but the Big Green had adjusted its coverage and fielded those clearances well. One such kick didn’t find touch and moved to Henrich, who ate up ground and offloaded to Sophie Ragg. The fullback crossed into the try zone but bobbled the grounding. But the time spent in Army’s end was eventually rewarded and Ale Ada snuck over the line for a third try, 19-7 with Johnson’s conversion.
Army crossed into Dartmouth’s end but again the Big Green defense had its way and produced a turnover that worked to Henrich in space. Army’s double coverage on the Eagle center justified itself as Henrich fended at least six players on a long-range run. Phases later, Henrich was rewarded with the try, converted by Johnson, 26-7.
With the game essentially decided, Army spent the majority of the final 10 minutes in Dartmouth’s half. The Black Knights did cross the try line once but the a truck-and-trailer penalty meant no more points for the day.
The NIRA National Championship final will kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern and can be viewed on ESPN+.