BOULDER, Colo. – Penn State’s comfortable opening round win over Wisconsin was a nice way to get the Nittany Lions’ feet wet in the Playoffs, but the Quarterfinal matchup against No. 1-ranked Life carries a much higher degree of difficulty.
Penn State hadn’t played much rugby just a few weeks prior to its April 11 contest with the Big Ten Universities Champion. However, on consecutive weekends leading up to the Round 1 Playoff match, the No. 11-ranked team out of Rugby East received a crash-course reminder of the toughness needed to beat a quality side by taking on men’s club sides Buffalo and Schuylkill River.
“It helped us build a sense of intensity and physicality that we might not have seen in some other warm-up games,” Penn State lock Dan Metcalf said of the back-to-back games against club competition.
The 160 minutes of rugby proved to be enough prep time to put the Nittany Lions in a position to be effective against Wisconsin.
“We kept up the physicality from the previous games, and we also had a very organized defense against Wisconsin,” Metcalf said. “We got up and we launched in their face, and stopped them at doing what they’re good at – which is move the ball wide.”
The 25-point victory against the Badgers has to have the boys in blue feeling good, but they are also student-athletes at Penn State. They are smart enough to know that a trip to Marietta, Ga., to play the top-ranked team in the country will be a daunting task.
“They are a well-rounded team,” said the senior. “They just have guys that are good at every facet of the game. There aren’t any guys on the team that you can take for granted.”
Metcalf’s description of the Running Eagles is accurate, but the Mid-South Champions might be rusty. When Life takes the pitch April 25 against Penn State, it will be four weeks since its last match – a 20-13 win over No. 3 Davenport.
While the Life undergrads may not have lined up against opposition as a team in several weeks, a select few Running Eagles have booted-up for Life’s Elite Training Group to face the likes of the Boston Irish Wolfhounds and New York Athletic Club in recent weeks. For the players returning to the undergrad squad after putting in time with Life’s American Rugby Premiership side, the chore of colliding into fellow college-grade players will come as a welcomed task.
On paper, the Running Eagles will burst onto its home pitch as the odds-on favorites. Even so, it’s worth noting Penn State hammered Davenport of the Mid-South 30-6 back in September. Life’s two wins over the Panthers came by a total of just 10 points.
The Nittany Lions’ win over Davenport, while impressive, might be too far back in the memory vault from which to draw inspiration. So, Penn State will simply be content with the fact they had an extra week of rest and preparation after being involved in the only Playoff match to take place prior to April 18.
“The extra week has been great,” Metcalf noted. “These two weeks have really given us a chance to refresh our legs, refresh our minds, and make sure everyone is ready and raring to go this weekend.”
Saturday’s Quarterfinal between Penn State and Life is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff and will be made available to view online on the Life U Network.