BOULDER, Colo. – It will be a great weekend for Big Ten Rugby. There will be two matches between ranked teams that will decide who plays in the conference’s championship match. The other two games will help to determine the seedings for the Nov. 14th Big Ten Championship event, and will see one side gain their first win of the season. This is a decisive weekend for rugby in the Midwest, and even though Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota, or Iowa won’t play in the championship match, they still have something to play for.
This weekend will also decide the participants in the Big Ten B-side championship. Wisconsin is a lock to play, but matches for Michigan and Indiana’s B-sides will determine who will play the Badgers in the B-side championship. It’s the last weekend of Big Ten conference play, and it might turn out to be the most exciting.
Michigan State vs. Purdue
The Spartans kicked this season off with a great, 65-5, win against Minnesota, but have since struggled to complete games. They played a close match with No. 20 Michigan, and only held Wisconsin to eight points in the first half before struggling in the second half, and were run over by Indiana and Ohio State. Playing four Top 20 teams in a row would put many teams through the ringer, and that is exactly what happened to Michigan State. Now the Spartans will have a chance to get their second win of the season.
Purdue has been able to rebound from a shaky start to the season with two wins. The Boilermakers had a close win against Illinois thanks to a late try by Mark O’Brien. O’Brien scored 22 points in the win against Illinois, and another eight against Minnesota. The Spartans will have to be wary throughout the match about where they are, and be careful with penalties, because O’Brien can easily put it through the uprights.
Michigan State was able to punch through the Ohio State defense for a couple tries, but have had little luck finding the try zone since. Flanker Michael Gieselman was able to score twice against the Buckeyes, and will need to get back to that when he faces the Boilermakers. The Spartans defense will also need to find a way to stop O’Brien, who has dominated in the previous two matches.
Purdue has already improved on its one-win record from last year, and if it is able to take this match against Michigan State, will finish sixth in the Big Ten, a huge improvement for this young side.
Minnesota vs. Iowa
Both of these sides have gone winless this season, but that will end for one team this weekend. Minnesota’s young side has been improving over the length of the season, and played its closest match of the season last week against Purdue. The team is young, but the improvement is there. Newcomers Gabe Cesarini and Jay Kim have each scored in the last two matches, and are proof the youth of this team is coming along behind Head Coach Chad Augeson.
Iowa was also hurt by the loss of influential seniors, and has experienced the biggest drop off in the Big Ten this season. The addition of Northern Iowa transfer Nico Felice has helped some, adding two tries to the Hawkeyes’ efforts this season, but their problem has mainly been on defense. Iowa has allowed 410 points over the span of five matches, the most in D1A. Minnesota may not have the strongest offense, but Iowa will need to make defense a focus if they plan on getting a win this season.