LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The Mid-South hits its midway point this weekend with matches at Arkansas State University and Clemson University – both featuring two teams ranked in the Canterbury D1A Rugby Top 20. The Red Wolves welcome Davenport to Jonesboro, Ark., while Life heads to South Carolina to face the Tigers.
#8 Arkansas State vs. #11 Davenport
The Panthers got the better of the Red Wolves, beating its longtime Mid-South rival 15-12 back in October. However, the two teams have gone in different directions since then. Davenport has lost three of its last four matches, including each of its past three contests. Meanwhile, Arkansas State has gone 5-2-1 following its two-point defeat to Davenport. The team’s two losses in that stretch came at the hands of No. 2 Life. Most recently, the Red Wolves earned a 17-17 draw against No. 6 Lindenwood.
“Our team has changed substantially, in both personal and strategy since October,” Arkansas State Head Coach Shaun Potgieter said. “We had 67 self-inflicted, unforced errors against Davenport in the fall – that is what needs to change. We cannot beat ourselves. Luckily, even with 67 errors we were still in the game.”
Other than limiting mistakes, the Red Wolves will have to match the level of enthusiasm they played with when they tied the Lions two weeks ago.
“It was the first game in a while that we’ve brought more energy than the team we were playing,” Potgieter said of the performance against Lindenwood.
The Panthers are just getting their legs under themselves after barely having the opportunity to train outdoors ahead of its Feb. 25 loss to Clemson. The last-second defeat to the Tigers has been followed by two more road losses to Life and Lindenwood. It hasn’t been the ideal start to their season, but the team remains upbeat and optimistic for a quick turnaround.
“This team is a strong side of rugby players with a lot of heart and experiences,” said Davenport Head Coach Harry King II. “Training has been tough, but they played some great rugby against all three teams. I feel that they will step up again and produce the best game this season.”
Over their last two games, the Panthers have only managed two tries. The lack of offensive output hasn’t been a result of a shortage in possession or positive field territory, though. Rather, they’ve been squandering opportunities to put additional points on the board.
“Everything is rugby is based on holding onto the ball in the red zone when you know that the defenses we are going up against are the toughest in the country,” King II added. “So, if you are not accurate in this area, scoring is not going to happen. Against Life and Lindenwood we missed scoring opportunities that could have changed the tide.”
#18 Clemson vs. #2 Life
Clemson’s upset win over Davenport still leaves the Tigers undefeated in the Mid-South after last week’s game against Arkansas State was canceled due to weather. The team understands there is a still plenty that needs to be accomplished ahead of them, but there’s no questioning the mental lift the win against the Panthers provided.
“The Davenport win was confirmation for the team that their cultural shift from high-level to high-performance rugby has been worth the struggle,” explained Clemson Head Coach Steve Lynch. “While the team is aware that the work has just begun, it has strengthened their resolve.”
The team has worked hard over the past few weeks tidy up some details, as well as improve its fitness. To beat the best in the conference, Life University, the Tigers will try to match its fitness, which they believe is one of Life’s many strengths.
“Life has been the most consistently dominant program in the D1A,” Lynch said. “We know they are the most fit, most committed and best drilled program in the country. We need to be at our best to compete with them. We have proven to ourselves we can compete for 55 minutes, now we need to take that jump to the elite level and play with them for 80 minutes.”
The first portion of Life’s Mid-South season has gone as many would have scripted it – unscathed. The Running eagles are 3-0 in the conference and have beaten its foes by an average of 29 points per match. Their most dominant performance came in their 57-point shutout of Arkansas State to retain the Huckaby Cup. Life’s lone close call occurred when Lindenwood battled the reigning Conference Champions to a 24-18 final.