A year ago, LSU’s first crack at the D1A Playoffs ended about as quickly as it began. The Tigers were soundly beaten by a seasoned Arizona squad 30-10, but walked away from that game with a better sense of what would be needed to reach the next level.
“After playing Arizona last year, we realized that we needed to test ourselves by playing teams that are highly ranked,” said LSU Rugby Vice President Zach Stratton.
This season, LSU scheduled a home-and-away series with Arkansas State. The first matchup in October was a lopsided 45-5 loss to the Red Wolves. LSU then went undefeated over the next several months, building confidence while dominating its Red River Conference opponents. The rematch with Arkansas State on Feb. 11 ended in another defeat, but was much more competitive with a final score of 27-17. The improved performance was noticed around the country, and earned LSU a bump to #17 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20.
“The way we were able to play Arkansas State definitely has given us confidence moving forward,” Stratton said, “This series allowed us to test ourselves against the level of play we would potentially see in the playoffs.”
Stratton specified that returning to the D1A Playoffs and advancing to the next round is the program’s goal this season, and that scheduling tougher opponents will continue to be part of their plan to sustain a high level of play in the future.
LSU and its Red River Conference rivals are located in an area of the country where the population of nationally competitive rugby clubs is sparser than in other regions. The Mid-South’s Life University and Arkansas State have reached the D1A Rugby National Championship game in recent years, but with LSU setting higher goals as a program, the status quo may be changing in the South.
The head administrator of the Red River Conference is TeShay Flowers. He says that LSU is setting an example for the rest of the conference by maintaining high standards.
“The South is often overlooked when compared to the West Coast. The Tigers are proving that there are quality programs down here, as well,” Flowers said. “This puts pressure on other teams to raise their game. This is evident in teams like Baylor, who have been surging the past few years just to keep pace with LSU.”
One validation of the progress of any college program or conference is its ability to produce High Performance talent. Junior loose forward Brennan Falcon followed his father’s footsteps to LSU Rugby, and has represented the USA for the Junior All-Americans.
“Our goal in the Red River is to continue to give players like Brennan a pathway to be recognized and excel,” Flowers said. “Whether it be High Performance or high level men’s rugby, we try to prepare them for the next level.”
Head Coach Bob Causey played at LSU, earning his first cap for the Eagles in 1977, and served as captain. Backs Coach Scott McLean is an alumnus, as well.
“Our club has a storied history with a legacy of coaches that have played for and graduated from LSU,” Stratton said, “They have a real understanding of what it means to play rugby for LSU.”
A tradition of this pedigree is rare in any part of the country, and it is something the Tigers want to continue to build on. As LSU continues to strive for elite status and chip away at the D1A Rankings, the rest of the Red River Conference will be working to catch them. This promises to fuel an exciting atmosphere in southern college rugby where talented young players come to develop their game and strive to play at the next level.