MARIETTA, Ga. – No. 1-ranked Life University clinched its third consecutive D1A Rugby National Championship berth with a 43-14 Semifinal defeat of No. 4 Lindenwood Saturday.
Glen Maricelli and Zander Van Schalkwyk each dotted down twice for the Running Eagles in front of a home crowd, while fly half Blane McIlroy accounted for 11 points with four conversions and a penalty goal.
Life enjoyed possession inside Lindenwood’s half early in the match and was rewarded before the 10-minute mark. Maricelli faked a pass to cut inside at the 22 and stepped around the final defender to score.
The Lions had an opportunity to cut into the 7-0 deficit with an attempt at goal, but Lungile Tshuma’s kick missed wide of the posts. In the 13th minute, Tshuma simultaneously received a pass and a McIlroy tackle at pace. The Lindenwood winger could not continue and was substituted.
Mark Gribben’s gainline-busting run in the 27th minute set up Hiko Malu to send Van Schalkwyk into the try zone on the wing. Another try-scoring opportunity in the 32nd minute was held up in-goal, but the Running Eagles extended the lead once again through Maricelli, who took the ball from the five-meter scrum through two defenders and over the line. McIlroy’s conversions brought the lead to 21-0 with five minutes remaining in the half.
Lindenwood had moments of possession throughout the half, but turnovers and penalties were punished by the home side. In the final minute of the opening frame, John Holden tackled a Running Eagle high into touch and was shown a yellow card by the referee. Life opted for points to end the half, but McIlroy could not work the angle to keep the lead at 21-0 at the break.
The Lions held off Life with 10 men in the first five minutes of the second half. A chance to slow the game came with a lineout, but it was not thrown straight. The Running Eagles used quick ball to advance down the pitch, and, following a turnover on the try line, Xander Daniels blocked Lindenwood’s clearance kick.
Maricelli’s attempt at replicating his second try failed with a penalty called against the number eight, but Life regained possession on the ensuing lineout. McIlroy grubbered the ball down the wing towards the Lindenwood defender, who cleared, and Life quickly took midfield.
A skip pass to Jacob McFadden within 15 meters of the try line turned the defenders, and the inside center offloaded to Tyrus Baytops. The winger cut inside a defender and outside another before popping the ball to the onrushing Van Schalkwyk for a 26-0 lead.
The tide turned in favor of the visiting Lions on the kickoff, with Maricelli receiving a yellow card for a man advantage. Lindenwood capitalized immediately, with Thomas O’Connor breaking through the defensive line at the 22 and offloading to Gabriel Farley on the wing for the try. Three minutes later, Mickey Bateman scored a superb individual try from a break inside Life’s half. The fly half juked one defender and pushed off a second to dot down between the sticks for a 26-14 score line.
The game began to unwind for both teams post-whistle, but the referee controlled the players well to keep the Semifinal moving. With 14 players on the pitch, Life held possession from a Lions clearance and worked the ball forward through phases. Baytops nearly found the corner of the try zone but the extra Lion on the pitch did not concede the space to score.
Baytops caught a Lindenwood box kick in the 67th minute and Life returned to the 22 before Corey Harmann received a yellow card. The Running Eagles opted for points and McIlroy converted for a 29-14 lead.
Farley began another Lindenwood attack inside his own half with a quick tap in the 73rd minute. The Lion offloaded to Christopher Reed to get past midfield and to the 22, but Life pushed Lindenwood backwards.
The Running Eagles turned over the ball in the breakdown and quickly moved the ball across the pitch to Baytops, who only needed a step to get around his defender and run 70 meters for the try. Gribben dotted down in the final play of the game after a series of passes by Van Schalkwyk and his brother, Duncan, to bring the final score to 43-14.
Life will not have to travel far to contest the D1A National Championship, with the 2015 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships set for by Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University. The Running Eagles will face the winner of the other D1A Semifinal, Saint Mary’s or Davenport, in the title match May 9 at 4 p.m. ET. Tickets are available from $10.