The Tufts women’s rugby football club defeated its Williams counterpart at Bello Field on Saturday by a comfortable 74-0 margin. First-year flanker Nellie Hines and scrum halves senior Sara Fuhrman and junior Alison Kuah, who is also the Executive Sports Editor for the Daily, contributed to an overall impressive team performance.
“The girls have worked incredibly hard not only to build a defensive strategy, but to also exploit gaps offensively, and I thought we really pulled it together this past weekend,” Tufts coach Sam Perino said. “Our main focus is to play as a single unit, and that’s what the girls did … It was great to see them all come together.”
The Ephs’ defense was no match for the Jumbos, who raced to a 36-0 lead in the first half, scoring two tries from the get-go. Tufts’ mix of speed and quick passes to the wing contributed to its dominance on offense, drawing the Williams defense out of positions that allowed the Tufts wings to lead its attack.
As a show of things to come, senior outside center Elizabeth Kirtland scored early on for the Jumbos. Tufts built on that lead, courtesy of junior fly half Maia Fulton-Black, whose nifty footwork eventually brought the ball deep into Williams’ territory, before she laid it off to Hines who extended Tufts’ lead to 26-0. With six minutes to play in the first half, senior lock Vanessa Pinto added to the Jumbos’ lead. Senior co-captain fly half Gracie Dietsche then found senior wing Olivia Bacon off a weak side play right at the end of the half to give Tufts a 36-0 lead.
The Jumbos did not always have it going their way however, with Ephs senior Lei Brutus an imposing presence on both ends of the field.
“Rugby’s a game where you have to stay focused for 80 minutes, and the girls have been working hard to improve communication and focus,” Perino said. “From the second they stepped onto the field to the time we were cleaning up, the girls were 100 percent committed and supporting each other, and we have built that rugby family unit.”
Senior co-captain Tara Watson agreed and added that there were some nervous moments that she believes the team coped well with.
“Maintaining focus is incredibly important and is a challenge with a game that lasts 80 minutes, and I was proud of the team for ignoring the score and playing rugby the way we know how to play,” Watson said. “There were times when we started to lose focus, but as a team we regrouped and continued to play our game. “
The second half saw the Jumbos continue their strong performance, as the team placed immense pressure on the Ephs, winning possession in the scrum.
Tufts was once again largely dominant, forcing Williams to clear the ball away from its own try zone several times. Williams was eventually punished for giving the ball away, as Kirtland scored just five minutes into the second half. However, as both teams sought to increase the speed in their attack, the second half was characterized by a series of misplaced passes from both sides, which led to knock-ons and penalties.
Despite this, Tufts continued to press ahead, as another try by Hines put Tufts up, 46-0. Sophomore full back Elizabeth Cultrara then converted her first kick of the second half to increase Tufts’ lead by two points.
A high tackle by the Williams defense was eventually punished by Tufts’ Fulton-Black as her team scored another try. With 10 minutes to play in the game, Dietsche added to the Tufts advantage.
Pinto later scored another try, bringing the final score to 74-0.
The Ephs’ first meaningful attack came close to the end, with Brutus leading the charge, only to be halted by a Jumbos defense determined to maintain their shutout.
“As with any team, you find something new each week that needs tweaking, but I think we’re on the right track to dominate in championships,” Dietsche said. “This team has a lot of heart, soul and dedication, and that’s what’s going to count in the end of the season.”
Overall the Jumbos scored 12 tries and seven conversions. They next travel to Middlebury for a game on Oct. 31.
“Going forward, for us, we’re looking to take that next step,” Perino said. “The players’ passing was phenomenal; they were seeing the gaps. And now we’re focusing on exploiting those gaps more and dominating offensively. If we win the next game, [then] we go to the playoffs. And given the amount of work the girls have put in, I’m confident that we will win and [that] we will make it to playoffs.”