Army, Penn State battle for place atop Rugby East standings

D1A Rugby: Army, Penn State battle for place atop Rugby East standings
Photo Credit: Mimi Goodman

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – One-sided matches and a number of shutout defeats have filled the Rugby East calendar after four weeks of action. In fact, none of the 16 games have been decided by a one-digit margin. That ‘s likely to change when No. 8 Army welcomes No. 4 Penn State to West Point.

The Nittany Lions improved their conference record to 4-0 last week by winning not one, but two games. Victories over St. Bonaventure and Buffalo combined for a score of 137-24, bringing Penn State’s four-game point differential to plus-281.

Army enters the bout undefeated with a 5-0 Rugby East mark. Since its Sept. 9, 16-5, win over Iona, West Point won its next four games with relative ease – something that isn’t overly concerning to head coach Matt Sherman.

“I think our ability to stay focused through adversity and pressure will be a paramount condition to a successful performance on Saturday,” Sherman said. “While we haven’t had close contests in recent weeks, we did play through adversity earlier in the year, and we always try to over-pressurize our training environment to replicate the stress we expect to go through Saturday.”

Last year’s contest between the two rivals saw Army keep Penn State at arm’s reach the entire length of the match for a 46-36 win. The loss was the Nittany Lions’ only defeat of the season and effectively prevented them from winning the Rugby East title.

Thomas Del Pino scored seven points from his boot for Army during the 2015 victory. On Saturday, Oct. 8, however, Del Pino could be found kicking towards West Point’s posts. The superb fly half and 1st-Team All-Conference selection from a year ago transferred to Penn State and has already scored two tries for the Nittany Lions this season.

Army has found a talented and accurate replacement for Del Pino in Jon Kim. The former place kicker for the West Point football team has been running Sherman’s patterns efficiently and his strong right leg has already produced 61 points this season.

Kim, a junior, is also one of 13 upperclassmen who started in last week’s 81-5 win over Delaware. The coaching staff is pleased that the upperclassmen are earning the right to wear the jersey on Saturdays, but that won’t define the team’s chances of beating a very good Penn State team.

“I think that experience can certainly help with working through the pressure of a highly contested game, but we will count on all 23, not just our 13 upperclassmen or our 15 starters, to contribute as leaders so that we can achieve our best performance possible,” said Sherman.

The fixture between Penn State and Army will kick off Saturday, Oct. 8, at 2 p.m. ET at the Anderson Rugby Complex at West Point and is available to watch on Knight Vision.