Arkansas State (3-0) at Life (3-0)
By: David Halvorson Jr.
The stage is set for arguably the most anticipated college rugby match of the young 2012 Division 1A season. The Life v. Arkansas State match this weekend is the first matchup of the top two teams in the Mid-South table and the winner will enjoy significantly less pressure heading into the second meeting, assuming both teams continue to play exceptionally well against the remaining Mid-South teams. Keeping the focus to this weekend’s match. The high-powered offenses and strong defenses of Life and Arkansas State are set to collide at 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon, March 17 in Marietta, GA in what is sure to be a battle for the ages.
Life is looking to avenge a 26-28 loss in 2011 to the Red Wolves that put them in second place and forced them to face eventual National Champion, Cal in the national quarterfinals. That match was played in Jonesboro, Arkansas so it can be assumed Life will be playing with great vigor in front of their home crowd.
The Arkansas State Red Wolves will be making the 450-mile trip from Jonesboro to Marietta to defend their 2011 Mid-South title against the hungry Running Eagles. Coming into the weekend’s match, ASU leads the nation with 266 total points scored in three matches. The defense for the Red Wolves has been comparatively effective, allowing just 27 points against in the three matches. The absurd amount of scoring has been allocated relatively evenly across the whole team. Ten Red Wolves have scored at least one try and eight of who have scored two tries or more.
Paul Benade leads the Red Wolves in tries scored this season with seven. Two players, Shaun Potgieter and Dale Bates, have each scored five tries this season, Shaun Paterson has scored four, and 2011 All-American Pat Sullivan and Zac Mizell have each scored three tries. It is safe to say that Arkansas State can score in bunches and they have multiple weapons who can do so.
In their first three matches the Red Wolves have look particularly strong off their set pieces. Many of their tries have come off of scrums and lineouts that produce great line breaks accompanied by equally great support. If Life is to slow down the ASU attack they must effectively eliminate the line-breaking ability of the Red Wolves and slow their high-speed show down.
Life comes into the match with the best statistical defense in the land. The Running Eagles have allowed just 15 points against and earned 226 points for in their three matches this season. Head Coach, Dan Payne, has prepared his team physically and mentally for the season. The Life attack is extremely balanced and they use the whole field extremely well. The Running Eagle attack is slightly different than Arkansas State due to the methodical nature of their offense. Life has no problem marching down the pitch through eight phases or more to score a try. Not saying Arkansas State has a problem with this style, but in their matches they have scored a fair amount more breakaway tries than Life.
National points leader, Joseph Cowley, has scored 73 points this season on six tries, 20 conversions, and two penalty kicks. The Men’s U20 member is asserting himself as one of the premier young players in the country. Alongside Cowley is an explosive attack led by 2011 All-American and one-time Eagle Sevens member, Cameron Dolan. Dolan has also touched down six tries this season and has been a commanding force in the rear of the scrums. There are eight other Life team members who have scored two or more tries this season, thus ten total Running Eagles have crossed the try line twice or more. A large portion of the scoring can be attributed to 2011 All-American flyhalf, Colton Carriaga, who has been the distributor to, and commander of, the backline for Life. Success in his matchup against ASU flyhalf, Pat Sullivan, will be key for Life in getting their offense rolling.
In order for Arkansas State to defeat the technically sound and powerful Life side, they must play physical defense characterized by strong tackling and intensity at the break down. If the Running Eagles can maintain long offensive possessions they may be able wear down ASU and break through the defensive line for scores.
The basic strategy to the game for both teams is going to be similar: play hard, play smart, and play Running Eagle, or, Red Wolf rugby. As with all games, across all sports, the team that can limit turnovers and capitalize on opportunities will win the match. It is sure to be a great match and it is always sad to see one team lose a hard-fought battle. But, the good thing about the match between ASU and Life having a winner and loser is that there is going to be another match on April 21. The stage is set and the teams are ready, all that needs to happen is the opening whistle and the epic Mid-South battle for first will begin.