MARIETTA, Ga. – There was a growing feeling in the college rugby community that Life University would have its work cut out for itself if the 2013 National Champions were to go a perfect 4-0 during this spring’s Mid-South Conference schedule – even prior to the Running Eagles barely getting past Davenport Feb. 28.
Life, while still stockpiled with talent, no longer have four AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans who helped the program win a title in 2013 and return to the D1A Final in 2014. Meanwhile, No. 4 Davenport return three All-Americans for their senior seasons, and fifth-ranked Lindenwood looks to be projecting positively after its inaugural D1A season saw the Lions reach the Semifinals.
“We’re not just going to roll over teams and beat them by forty or fifty points,” said Life forwards captain and number eight Glen Maricelli. “We’re going to have to play full rugby games.”
Playing a full rugby game is exactly what Maricelli and his teammates were forced to do at home this past weekend against a hungry Davenport team. The Panthers, coming off a win over Arkansas State and playing with an extra burst in their step since the return of fly half JP Eloff, did not back down from the reigning Mid-South Champions, and even looked the part of the aggressor during several phases of the match.
“We’re not used to being down, especially not at home,” Maricelli admitted. “But credit to the Davenport boys, as they never took a step back and came out firing.”
The match consisted of four lead changes and three ties by the time fly half Blaine Mcllroy set the ball on a kicking tee following a Davenport penalty with no time remaining and the score knotted at 25-all. Mcllroy, who was 2-3 on conversions and already connected on two penalty kicks earlier in the contest, struck the ball through the uprights for the final play of the game, and a Running Eagles victory.
Veterans like Maricelli and lock Jake Anderson continue to lead Life from the front, but the Running Eagles also started five freshmen in Saturday’s three-point win. While the freshmen are talented, they are still fairly unfamiliar with elite level college rugby.
“With only four games to play in our conference, it’s trial by fire for these new guys,” Maricelli said of the newcomers to campus. “There isn’t a whole lot of time to learn, but I think these new guys will pick it up quickly.”
Dating back to last season, Life has won eight consecutive matches against Mid-South opponents. So, there isn’t quite blood in the water, but the Running Eagles will be tested three more times before the 2015 D1A Rugby Playoffs. The first of those three remaining challenges comes March 7 when Life hosts Lindenwood.