National Championship Preview

D1A Rugby: National Championship Preview
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – St. Mary’s and Life’s respective paths to the title game are extremely different as are their styles of play, which is exactly why the D1A National Championship is going to be so intriguing.  It also marks the first time either team has appeared in the title game.  Kickoff is Saturday May 18 at 7 p.m. ET and will broadcast live on ESPN3.

St. Mary’s is a high octane team, there’s no doubt about it.  They’re brimming with athletic forwards that give the backs plenty of space to work with.  They put up a lot of points in conference play, but really weren’t tested defensively aside from an out-of-league skirmish with Cal where the Golden Bears scored 35 second half points to beat the Gaels 41-31. 

Other than that game and a scare down in San Luis Obispo against Cal Poly,  the Gaels basically scored, scored and scored some more, running teams into the ground until they lost the will or ability to defend or were simply too gassed to mount any meaningful attack when they had possession.  St. Mary’s can expect something very different playing Life.

Life Specialty Coach (and former Director of Rugby) Scott Lawrence’s fingerprints are all over Life’s defense.  St. Mary’s can expect a very disciplined defensive effort from Life with maybe a little extra gusto in the title game.  If you happened to watch the Lawrence-led Junior All-Americans beat Japan to win the Junior World Rugby Trophy last year in Salt Lake, you should expect a similar effort from Life in the D1A National Championship.  (If you didn’t see it, the JAAs had a legendary goal line stand and weathered a lethal Japanese attack for the final four minutes of the championship and eventually forced a penalty to end with a win.)

On attack, Life pounds you, goes through a lot of phases and waits for you to make a mistake and makes you pay.  Whether that’s a try or a penalty kick from the more than capable boot of Joe Cowley, it’s points on the scoreboard and they’ll take them every time.

Both teams expect this one to come down to defense. 

“All of their backs are very athletic and very quick.  We’re going to have to make our tackles and hustle, hustle, hustle,” said Life All-American loose forward/wing, Cam Dolan.

St. Mary’s tighthead prop, Jordan Bouey, said that Life’s willingness to drive up the phase count and force a lot of bodies into the contact area is something his team is preparing for, but the pressure of the game doesn’t bother them.

“We’ve had a lot of guys come in (to the St. Mary’s program) who have had big pressure experience,” Bouey said, noting that a lot of the Gaels came from big time football and rugby programs all over the country.

Life loosehead prop Paris Hollis, a North Carolina native, anticipates the Gaels to stick to what they know, playing hard and playing fast. 

“It’s going to be a bruiser, but that’s what we love.  That’s what our forwards thrive on.  We’re a bunch of blue collar kids that go out there and work hard.”

A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

Looking at the numbers might not be all that helpful if you’re trying to pick a winner in this one.  St. Mary’s can put up a ton of points, but so can Life.  The Running Eagles just had a tougher path to the National Championship playing in the Mid-South. Remember, they didn’t even win their conference championship.  The Running Eagles had to face Arkansas State not once, not twice, but three times to get to the National Championship.  All three games were decided by six points or less.

In other words, you really need to consider qualitatively each team’s schedule and their performance in tight games.

Either way, here are the numbers.  The category that gets close to showing how close these two teams are is the average against ranked opponents.

St. Mary’s

 

Life

 

Regular Season

 

66.86

Avg. Points For

37.25

12.1

Avg. Points Against

20.25

 

Against Ranked Opponents

 

49

Avg. Points For

45.6

21.5

Avg. Points Against

16.8

 

Playoffs

 

61.5

Avg. Points For

36.5

24.5

Avg. Points Against

21