Photos Dennis D. Hawk
BOULDER, Colo. – D1A Rugby’s No. 2- and No. 3-ranked teams will collide Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark., when Life pays its Mid-South rival Arkansas State a visit.
Back on March 1, Life got the better of the Red Wolves in a 34-7 victory. The 27-point margin of victory is the largest single-game point differential seen in the Mid-South this spring.
The Running Eagles may have used a strong second half to put the teams’ first meeting well out of reach, still, Life Director of Rugby Dan Payne knows his team will have to play its best in order to beat Arkansas State on the road.
“They are always competitive matches regardless of the score line,” said Payne. “We’re traveling to their home field, which is always a challenge. So, we’ll have our work cut out for us. We relish our matches with Arkansas State because they are such a great group of rugby players and competitors.”
The reigning D1A National Champions start a front row with a wealth of experience and talent, as well as Joe Cowley patrolling the backline. Beyond that, there are several positions being filled by players with limited college experience.
“We’re very proud of the effort our young guys are giving,” said Payne. “They’re improving week over week. They’re being tested in a very stressed environment, which is great. Not one of them has wilted yet.”
Arkansas State has also witnessed growth as a team since its first match against Life. Sure, the Red Wolves still rely on known entities such as Shaun Potgieter, Harry Higgins and Dylan Carrion for consistent performances. However, lesser-known units like hooker Lourens Erasmus and flanker Steyn Benade have made an impact in Arkansas State’s two-match sweep over fifth-ranked Davenport.
The Red Wolves were plenty aware of Life’s capabilities on the pitch even prior to its 27-point loss five weeks ago.
“We know we have a big game ahead of us this weekend,” said Arkansas State Head Coach Mani Delaibatiki. “Obviously their record speaks for itself and we know they have a quality side.”
Delaibatiki knows he will need contributions from everyone that suits up, and a Red Wolves team that executes much better than it did in its first meeting of the season.
“As a team we have spoken about rising to the occasion, and this Saturday I’m expecting us to do exactly that, said Delaibatiki. “If we match them up front, get physical and do what we are supposed to do as a team I think we should be okay.”
Saturday’s encounter could end up as the second part of a three-match series should the two meet in the playoffs. If that scenario should unfold, then this weekend’s winner would put itself in prime position to host the potential playoff match.