Clemson, Life pull out late victories in Mid-South play

D1A Rugby: Clemson, Life pull out late victories in Mid-South play
Photo Credit: Nick Storm

The Clemson Tigers highlighted the Mid-South conference this weekend, securing the program’s first D1A conference win in dramatic fashion against #9 Davenport by a final of 34-33. Elsewhere #3 Life topped #6 Lindenwood in a scrappy, 24-18, match.

Clemson 34-33 #9 Davenport

Davenport took and early 5-0 lead before Clemson switched gears. Following a penalty kick by Aaron Keers, James Rogers recorded the Tigers’ first try of the game. With the score 12-8 in favor of Davenport in the 34th minute, the teamwork of Liam Helstrom and Lucas Beni gave Clemson their first lead 13-12.

Jason Damm followed up for Clemson with a 50 meter run just before halftime, and the ensuing conversion gave the Tigers a 20-12 advantage at the break. With the score later 27-19 in favor of the home team, Davenport began to rally. Two successful penalty kicks by the Panthers narrowed the gap to 27-25 before going up 33-27. With time waning fast, it was Hunter Dawsey’s last moment try, and Keers successful conversion, that gave Clemson the one point lead and victory.

“We had quiet confidence all week after the Navy match, our players worked very hard in training, S&C and recovery,” said Clemson head coach Steve Lynch. “We have been building a culture for the last year working toward a high performance environment, knowing every week will be a battle in the most competitive conference in college rugby.  

“This win was not about individuals, we had 23 players who performed as part of something larger than themselves, when they played their roles, we had success, when they didn’t, we faltered,” he added.

The Panthers were not without highlights either, especially in their second half recovery. But what conclusively stalled Davenport’s engine were errors on defense, as well as coming off a winter schedule with no games in between. Their last game was back on Nov. 3, but Davenport was also without All-American loose forward Dominique Bailey, who was attending the Men’s Eagles 7s High Performance Camp in Chula Vista, Calif.

Lack of games and players is a recipe that no team hopes to face, and certainly does not take away from Clemson’s win, but regardless the opposition felt a lot was left on the field on Saturday.

Lynch went on to comment that despite losing the lead late in the match, the team did not panic, and was business as usual. That mentality was pivotal in setting up Dawsey’s touch, as well as settling down after an early deficit.

“It was a program win, a culture win, a benchmark for a university with 50 years of history,” Lynch chimed. “We have a university culture of support, regardless of the sport; the alumni, the players, the families and the administration have rallied behind the program.”

The Tigers have two weeks until their next conference match, when they face #10 Arkansas State on Mar. 11.

#3 Life 24-18 #6 Lindenwood

#3 Life, meanwhile, was able to hold off #6 Lindenwood while never yielding the lead. After exchanging penalty kicks early, the Running Eagles took advantage in the 22nd minute off a try by senior Zander Van Schalkwyk, and the ensuing conversion by Cody Melphy made the score 10-3. Lindenwood’s Nick Feakes narrowed the gap with his second penalty kick of the game, but Melphy extended Life’s lead minutes later with another try and conversion, but also was given a yellow card prior to the half.

Lions’ 8-Man Wesley Parker was given his own yellow card in the 48th minute, while the team as a whole was kept at bay the majority of the half. Another try by Van Schalkwyk and conversion by brother Duncan Van Schalkwyk gave the Running Eagles a comfortable 24-6 advantage in the 61st minute. Lindenwood would begin their rally attempt moments later, starting with a try by full back Michael Baska in the 66th. Two minutes later, Christopher Kelland notched a try to pull the gap to 24-18, but the comeback would fall short.

Life head coach Scott Lawrence noted that although penalties were a slight issue, it was not enough to warrant a discussion during the contest. And while the Lions surged late, he credited a quick recovery defensively in maintaining the win.

“We had a period there where we couldn’t get out of our own way and gave up two quick tries,” Lawrence commented. “In the last 11 minutes the men held territory and possession not allowing Lindenwood past their own 30-meter, defending to a negative net gainline, and winning the turnover and penalty count. This was key to closing the game out.”

Lawrence went on to say that patience and decision-making will be areas of focus this week for the team. Life will host Davenport Saturday afternoon, Mar. 4 in another conference matchup. Lindenwood, meanwhile, will travel to face #10 Arkansas State the same day.