Third year in a row I've posted this. It never gets old! Now 42 years ago...
Ahhh, 40 years ago - June fifth, 1976. In Downing Stadium, a Rugby Festival with four games. After three New York teams all get steamrolled by English sides, the England Champions Gosforth take on the NY champions - and my club - Essex. Along with Colin Kiley, I was co-captain of the team - in those days there were two captains, one for the backs and one for the forwards. We had won the NY Championship by going 5-0 in the first division.
The final score, Gosforth 17, Essex 8.
The following is excerpted from the Essex Rugby Club 1978 brochure - thanks to Brigid for scanning in the pictures and for my friend and business associate Judy for typing in the text.
The Story of ‘76
Training for the Spring, 1976 Season was hampered by late winter snow. The March 13th opener against Manhattan was delayed one hour while players waited out a fierce hailstorm which left the field wet in some spots and ice-covered in others. This was not the type of weather in which to take on the seasoned Manhattan Pack. To make matters worse, U.S. Eagle Tom Selfridge had been installed in the back row by Manhattan and both experienced Essex fly-halves were unavailable for the match. Both sides felt each other out until the fifteenth minute when Mike Kenefick and newcomer Bill Gardner combined for a try in the corner. Early in the second-half Bruce Corrigan stole an errant Manhattan pass and raced fifty yards to score under the posts with Krenn converting for a 10-0 lead. From that point Essex held on for a 10-8 victory and the club’s first ever “big game” win.
Essex continued to improve as the season progressed to the point where it had won eight of its first nine matches and was looking ahead toward a showdown with Old Blue to determine the Met Union Championship. The new, young players were providing speed and enthusiasm and were meshing nicely with several of the more experienced originals who by now had developed some sense of what the game was all about. As the match which would determine the championship drew near, Essex was thinking and playing confidently.
Prior to May 8, 1976 Essex had never beaten Old Blue’s first XV. No sooner had the game begun than Essex spotted the opposition to a 0-6 lead and it looked as though they might never beat them. Winger Bob Piazza dummied two defenders and went in for a try from the weak side to get Essex rolling and the ever present Peter Cozens blocked a kick, scooped up the loose ball and turned it into four points as Essex rolled up 17 points before Old Blue was able to strike again. The 17-14 final victory assured the Essex Rugby Club of the 1976 Metropolitan New York Rugby Union Championship and some long awaited recognition. It also won for Essex the right to be the final opponent for England’s touring John Player Cup Champions, the Gosforth Football Club.
With one week to prepare for England’s finest club side, severe anxiety set in. Reports of the rugged Gosforth pack anchored by Irish and British Lion prop Ray McLoughlin filtered down from Boston where the tourists were manhandling some of the finest American club and select sides. In addition to hosting the party loving Englishmen for two days prior to the match, Essex had to witness a Fylde massacre of Old Maroon only minutes before taking the field. The eighty minutes that followed have to be considered the club’s finest hour. The Essex forwards contested the much heavier, veteran Gosforth pack at every turn. Tom Faranda was nothing less than outstanding in checking his opposite number, Steve Smith of Sale and England. Corrigan, Kiley, McDonough and Cozens covered by field. Mike Kenefick and Tom Crowley in the centers stopped every Gosforth rush, often well behind the line and penetrated the English defenses on any number of occasions. Bill Gardner and Peter Ferrara scored unconverted trys, the latter of which saw at least nine Essex players handling the ball. The 8-17 victory for Gosforth was the closest call that they had on their tour and unquestionably a victory for the Essex Rugby Club and the 2,000 or so New York area spectators.
Forty years later, thinking about why we didn't get blown out:
- We were motivated to do well
- We had good players at every position and a good bench - no weaknesses
- Gosforth had been on tour for almost two weeks and this was their last game - and it was hot out!
My recollection is that the post-match party was pretty good!