As the Mid-South conference kicks in to spring gear, two games are on tap this weekend, featuring three Canterbury Top 20 teams. #3 Life hosts #6 Lindenwood, while #9 Davenport hits the road against Clemson.
#3 Life vs. #6 Lindenwood
The Running Eagles and Lions meet twice in the regular season, with round two just a month out. As for the present both teams come in to this weekend on good momentum, but for Lindenwood there is the added history. Life has been a big monkey on the Lions’ backs in recent years having lost five straight against the Running Eagles, including D1A National Semifinal games back in 2015 and 2016.
Wins against Colorado and #16 Air Force helped erase a disappointing 19-3 loss against Central Washington, but a win against its conference rival could propel Lindenwood in to the top-five, and set an early tone in the Mid-South.
A first half shutout helped push the Lions to an easy 53-7 victory against the Zoomies, when junior fly hack Nick Feakes led scoring with 18 points, who credited the team’s front line in opening up chances throughout the contest. And with a two–week rest on its side, as well, Lindenwood will be well primed for its conference foe.
The Running Eagles welcome the Lions to town coming off a shut out performance versus Arkansas State, retaining the Huckaby Cup in the process. Senior Cody Melphy notably highlighted the team’s second half with three tries. The fly half hasn’t missed a beat according to head coach Scott Lawrence, who expects Melphy to be a huge contributor after his international exposure.
“Cody has come back after a fall off from play and is getting back into form,” Lawrence said. “The most important aspect for Cody is the men around him that help create opportunities.”
For Lawrence, the team may have looked good against the Red Wolves most of the match, but coming into Saturday he expects his squad’s performance to be better overall for the next full 80 minutes.
“Biggest takeaway is consistency,” Lawrence added. “If you look at the profile of the game the best things happened at the beginning and then at the end when Arkansas State was chasing the game a bit. We’re looking for a more consistent performance.”
Clemson vs. #9 Davenport
The Tigers welcome the Panthers to their brand new home field, having broken it in with an impressive 48-10 win over South Carolina, as well as a 15-10 loss in a meeting with Navy. It has been a warm welcome in terms of competition after transitioning to the Mid-South, but Clemson’s first true D1A test comes against a Davenport squad that has not played since November against Notre Dame, having won that contest 27-15.
Since that game, head coach Harry King II has used this offseason to focus on three main aspects.
“Number one – maintaining the core structure that was developed,” King said. “Second – keeping our core athletes healthy since we live in the Midwest and have not seen the sun until this week. Three – training some of those freshmen to step into high stress roles.”
Those core athletes include captain and flanker Mike Lau, who is expected to step up and “pad his side with distinction” as King puts it. In addition, King is looking to his seniors to help lead the way as 2017 unfolds.
“Since our main squad has a strong senior contingent I am looking forward to them playing to a high level and carrying this team,” he added.
For Clemson, head coach Steve Lynch noted several keys he saw in preparation for the spring, but above all was becoming prepared for D1A competition, something that has been both mentally and physically rewarding.
“Fitness and team culture and cohesion were our top priorities,” Lynch commented. “Moving from a club sport governed by Club Sports Department in Campus Recreation, to a student organization administered by Clemson Athletics, our greatest obstacle has been making the leap to high performance rugby. We are still a work in progress but there has been a significant jump in level of commitment and cultural high performance mindset.”
Aaron Keers gave Clemson an early lead against Navy off a penalty kick, but the opposition ultimately took a 7-3 lead and never looked back. He also noted the outing versus Navy was a statement for the Tigers. It was a game that the squad truly saw the fruits of their labors; players had made massive strides in fitness and strength, as Lynch happily mentioned.
“Players who were talented and unfit for D1A level play are now reaching levels they never thought possible. Our match versus Naval Academy last week saw us match Navy for 80 minutes of fitness in a defensive battle, 15-10. We have some rust to knock off but I am excited about all of my players coming into their own as athletes. Dylan Goulding, Colin Gregory and Jason Damm are going to be noticed this year, all around smart players and athletes who are now embracing a high performance rugby culture.”