Week 10 Barnburners: Penn State v. Army ; Arkansas State v. Life

D1A Rugby: Week 10 Barnburners: Penn State v. Army ; Arkansas State v. Life
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#1 Rugby East Championship: Penn State (5-0) v. Army (5-0)

Army, the 2011 Rugby East champions, will travel to battle Penn State in what will be the 2012 Rugby East championship game. There are some serious playoff implications for Saturday’s match, as the winner will earn a home game for the first round of the playoffs. The match will kickoff at 1:00 PM ET at West Campus Pitch in State College, Pennsylvania.

The matchup between these two teams in 2011 was largely dominated by Army who won by a final score of 50-26. In that game, winger, Ben Leatigaga (Army ’11), scored five of the seven Army tries and was without a doubt, the key difference-maker in the match. Leatigaga is no longer with the Army squad and Penn State comes into the Rugby East championship a different team than in 2011.

Both Army and Penn State are undefeated in Rugby East play and have scored 193 and 194 points, respectively, this season.

The Army defense has been slightly better than their opponent, allowing just 79 total points this season compared to the 105 allowed by Penn State. Although Army has one of the better statistical defenses in the nation, Head Coach, Richard Pohlidal, would like to see more from the Black Knight defense. “I would like to see our team defense step up- it just cannot be one or two individuals having good games, everyone needs to rise to the occasion. We haven’t been consistent enough on defense.”

If Army is to continue their defensive might they must slow down a big, fast, and strong Penn State attack that is led by Chris Saint at scrumhalf and Michael Erickson at 8-man. Saint was a First Team All-American in 2011 and is a smart player with a good pass and a shifty running style that makes him tough to corral. Erickson, a 2011 Honorable Mention All-American, is extremely athletic and a powerful force at the back of the scrum with exceptional pace for a player of his size.

The game is played with 15 players at a time and Pohlidal realizes that the whole Penn State side is talented, not just these two players. “We know there are moments that we are going to be under pressure. Penn State has players all over the pitch who will challenge our defense; working hard off the ball to organize and regenerate our defensive posture will be very important.”

Christopher Hardee, Kyle Ulses, and Will Holder lead Army in scoring, but Pohlidal is quick to reiterate the idea that there are many leaders on the field for Army. “We have 15 leaders on the field who bring different things in different moments. Trevor Mitchell and Lee Namy, our team captains, work hard to reinforce everyone’s role within our structures; but at the end of the day, more players making decisions in our framework is a good thing.”

Both teams will need to play disciplined defense, especially when defending their own half. Joseph Baker of Penn State and Will Holder of Army are extremely accurate with the boot and force opponents to play honest defense. With so many talented players on the field it is going to be crucial for defenses to quickly realign and for offenses to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes.

Pohlidal recognizes the task at hand and humbly welcomes the challenge. “We have tremendous respect for Penn State, they are very talented. We will need to play a complete game and have things go our way in critical moments. We are going to have to put in an honest day’s work, there’s no question about that.” It’s win and stay home, or lose and hit the road for the playoffs. There couldn’t be a better finish to the Rugby East regular season.

#2 Mid-South Championship Arkansas State (6-1) v. Life (7-0)

Round two of the Life and Arkansas State rivalry will convene on Saturday as the Mid-South leaders, Life, hit the road to face an Arkansas State side that is chomping at the bit to avenge their week five loss to the Running Eagles. The match will kick off at 1:00 PM CT at the Arkansas State Rugby Pitch in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

In the week five matchup between these two squads, the home team, Life, came away with a 30-14 victory. In that match Cameron Dolan, Colton Carriaga, and Darrian Woodson scored tries in the second half and Joseph Cowley kicked through three penalties and three conversions. Patrick Sullivan led Arkansas State with three penalties and James Cobble touched down a try in minute 80 to give ASU their final point total.

The 2012 D1A statistical leader board is riddled with multiple players from both teams. Arkansas State and Life have scored a combined total of 1,001 points this season, so it is understandable that their players lead the nation in offensive statistics.

The Life 8-man, Cameron Dolan, leads the nation with 14 tries this season, scoring three or more tries on three separate occasions. Running Eagle forward, Paul Bester, has scored 8 tries this season, including five in one match versus Oklahoma. The Life fullback, Joseph Cowley, leads the nation with 178 points scored this season. To put his offensive contribution in perspective, Cowley has scored 96 more points than the second total points scored leader and has scored more points than about half of the teams in the Men’s D1A competition.

Arkansas State has a plethora of offensive threats as well. Paul Benade has scored 11 tries this season, touching down four in the season opener against Texas A&M. Accompanying Benade on the attack are Shaun Potgieter, Dale Bates, and Patrick Sullivan. Potgieter has scored 9 tries this season, and he also scored five tries in one match against Oklahoma. Patrick Sullivan leads Arkansas State with the boot having made 18 conversions and four penalty kicks to go along with his six tries for 78 points scored this season, third in the nation. If Sullivan happens to be uncharacteristically inaccurate kicking the ball on Saturday, the Red Wolves can use David Caswell who has kicked through 21 conversions and one penalty.

As is the case in the Penn State versus Army match, the winner will enjoy the luxury of a home first-round playoff game. The loser, on the other hand, will be forced to make a long journey for their match, something no team particularly looks forward to.

Some of America’s finest rugby talent will be on display in Jonesboro this weekend and the match is a great showcase of what is to come from all of collegiate rugby. Undoubtedly, Arkansas State will be fired up for the match as they are defending their 2011 Mid-South title on their own turf. In order to reclaim their title, ASU must defeat a Life side that beat them in the College Sevens Championship and earlier in the regular season. The plot couldn’t be thicker for the Mid-South championship.