BOULDER, Colo. – The USA Rugby College Premier Division (CPD) Barnburner for this week is a clash of collegiate rugby powerhouses battling for supremacy in the Mid-South Conference. The Life University Running Eagles and the Arkansas State Red Wolves are set to battle at 1:00 p.m. CDT at the Arkansas State Rugby Pitch in Jonesboro, Ark.
Life is topping the tables in the Mid-South and a win over the Red Wolves will put them ten points ahead of any other team in the conference. If Arkansas State pulls out a win over the Running Eagles, they’ll put themselves in a good position to come out at the top of the Mid-South in May.
These two schools might not be the biggest names in collegiate sports, but they both play great rugby and have done so for a while.
Life holds a slight advantage in the rankings (3rd on RugbyMAG.com, 4th on WeAreRugby.com), but Arkansas State (5th on both RugbyMAG.com and WeAreRugby.com) has put up big scores on the opposition so far this season in the CPD.
Arkansas State scored 41 points last weekend in Norman, Okla., defeating the University of Oklahoma Sooners at home. Red Wolves flyhalf and Collegiate All-American, Pat Sullivan, scored a brace of tries and hit two conversions in the game, leading as a captain should, by example.
“Patty is built like an international eight man, but with a flyhalf mentality. He’s got a great pass and can put the ball wherever he wants,” said ASU head coach, Matt Huckaby.
Sullivan’s got fleet-footed backs to help his cause and tenacious and mobile forwards to supplement the Red Wolves’ firepower.
Life will be the firmest challenge so far in the CPD for the Red Wolves and they will have to shut down the Running Eagles on defense if they want to vie for a top spot in the conference.
Life opened up their season with a decisive win over Tennessee, continued to beat Texas A&M by 20 points in week two and put the hurt on Louisiana State this past weekend, beating the LSU Tigers 71-8.
Life number eight, Cameron Dolan, has five tries on the season, scoring a hat trick in the Running Eagles CPD opener and winning Mid-South Player of the Week honors.
Life’s openside flanker, Garrett Lambert, scored a hat trick of his own last weekend against LSU so Life’s loose forwards are massively fast and able with ball in hand.
Life Head Coach, Dan Payne, acknowledges Dolan and Lambert have scored plenty of five-pointers, but what he sees from the pair off the ball, in the tackle, and in set-piece is what really makes Dolan and Lambert so outstanding.
“What they do besides score tries is what we rate higher,” said Payne.
Huckaby knows exactly the type of threat that Dolan and Lambert are in the loose. Huckaby coached Lambert and Dolan on the South All-Stars last year and won a National All-Star Championship with them.
“If Garrett and Cam get rolling, you’ll have a long game,” said Huckaby, complimenting the Life loosies.
Even with slight favor in the rankings, Payne still sees his young side as the underdogs against a very good Arkansas State team.
“We know Arkansas State is a very skilled and experienced team and we’re going to have to prove our legitimacy.”
The caliber of collegiate rugby, thanks to programs like Arkansas State and Life, has raised the bar of competition and attracted new talent to the sport, particularly in the south.
“We’re looking forward to having a Cal/BYU type of game down here in the south,” said Huckaby.
Arkansas State will look to put a stamp on the game early, with defense as a point of emphasis.
“Life is strong, very well coached, and you have to defend them as a team. You’ve got to take space away and hit them hard,” said Huckaby.