Rivalries are cornerstones of college athletics, with the ongoing Virginia Tech-University of Virginia battle being no exception.
The two schools met again this past Saturday, as their men’s rugby teams dueled for the Commonwealth Shield — the Hokies took home the win, beating the Cavaliers, 24-22.
The idea behind Commonwealth Shield stems from that of the Commonwealth Cup — a 4-foot trophy the Tech and UVa football teams compete for every year.
“We wanted something to play for each year between these two universities,” said Tech ruby head coach Andy Richards. “We have a great rivalry going on here. They do it in football, and that was the idea — to have something tangible each year.”
With last year’s inaugural match for the shield being cancelled due to weather and perhaps serving as an omen for the dramatic battles to come, the two clubs were finally able to take the pitch this past Saturday under much better conditions and get the amped-up rivalry under way.
With a large crowd on hand, Tech and UVa delivered an exciting match with a dramatic finish, befitting of the first matchup with the coveted Commonwealth Shield at stake.
The Cavaliers struck quickly, scoring the first try and converting, to jump out to a 7-0 lead. Tech answered shortly after with a try of its own and also converted to tie the game up.
However, UVa followed up with another try and converted, then tacked on a penalty kick to jump out to a 17-7 lead. Tech wouldn’t let it get too out of control though, as it responded with a try of its own but failed to convert, making it 17-12.
The Cavaliers seemed intent on extending their lead just before halftime, but an impressive defensive stand by the Hokies denied them and kept the deficit at five points at the break.
The Hokies seemed to carry over the intensity of their pre-halftime defensive stand and came out firing with the wind at their backs. The script was flipped in the second half as the Hokies would strike quickly and seemed to dominate, nearly putting the game away as they built a lead of their own. But the Cavaliers would rally back to get within two as the clock was winding down.
All was quiet as the Cavaliers had a chance to win the match with a penalty kick on the final play but failed to capitalize to the relief of the Hokies. Cheers erupted as the final whistle blew — the Hokies had hung on to win.
“We really had a gut check this week,” Richards said. “And there’s a determination among these guys that’s going to take them through, and that was the difference at the end really.”
Though neither of these clubs are in the running to win the Atlantic Coast Rugby League at this point in the season, their passion for the game and desire to stand victorious over their rival with shield in hand was evident throughout the entirety of the match — a testament to the competitive spirit that is college rivalries and more specifically, Tech vs. UVa.