Life protects home turf, defeats BYU on way to fifth straight D1A Final

D1A Rugby: Life protects home turf, defeats BYU on way to fifth straight D1A Final
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

MARIETTA, Ga. – Life University will have an opportunity to defend its 2016 D1A Rugby National Championship after defeating No. 3-ranked BYU in the Semifinals. The Running Eagles scored crucial tries at both ends of the halftime whistle to stay ahead of visiting Cougars, 36-26.

Fly half Cody Melphy supplied Life’s first round of pressure by breaking the line and utilizing support runners to get deep inside BYU’s half. With a scum in favor of Life and the backs lined up on the left, scrum half Ryan Rees pick and ran to the right where he was able to place the ball on the white line for the game’s first points. Sam Cowley’s conversion was good and the Running Eagles took an early 7-0 lead.

It didn’t take BYU long to answer, however. BYU used its strong and organized pack to pick-and-go its way to five points, but the conversion was off the mark.

More slick interplay between Life’s backline got the team back inside BYU’s 22-meter line. From there, the forwards marshaled the ball to the five-meter line. The Cougars withstood the pressure and eventually created a turnover. A penalty on BYU handed the ball back to the Running Eagles and they used the infraction to increase their lead to 10-5 thanks to a penalty kick by Cowley.

The Cougars got back to their pick-and-drive game, but a knock-on at the five-meter line stalled their progress. Life’s own knock-on would put possession back into the grasp of the BYU forwards, and this time they crashed over the line for a converted try and their first lead, 12-10.

Hard luck helped return momentum towards the home team, while causing the Cougars to limp into halftime. Kingston Matua sustained an injury that wouldn’t allow the superb scrum half to return from, and All-American full back Joshua Whippy received a yellow card for a cynical foul.

With a man advantage in their favor, the Running Eagles would strike using 2016 D1A Rugby National Championship MVP Harley Davidson to slice through the defense off a scrum and into the try zone. Cowley’s successful conversion would be the final play of the opening half, and Life went into the break leading 17-12.

The Running Eagles opened the second half the more aggressive team. A few missed tackles aided the cause, and Life ambushed its way under the sticks for the first points of the second period.

The Cougars kept the ball tight with their forwards. When they caught the opposition napping after a penalty, BYU used a quick tap to drive the ball to the goaline and plunged in for a converted try.

Knowing full well its 24-19 lead wouldn’t be safe from a lethal BYU side, Life used a collected lineout to set the platform needed for Melphy to dumby his way in the endzone. Another successful Cowley conversion boosted his team’s lead to 31-19.

A try awarded to the Cougars made it a five-point ballgame, but Melphy’s line breaking ability proved to be the difference. The fly half, again, exploited a half gap and this time offloaded to Cowley. A chip kick and hack through later, and the winger collected the ball and five points.

Life’s defense preserved its 10-point lead, and the Running Eagles celebrated a 36-26 win. The victory punches their ticket to the D1A Rugby National Championship game for the fifth consecutive season. A year after winning its second D1A title at Saint Mary’s College, Life will return to Northern California where the May 6 National Championship match will be aired live on CBS Sports Network.

The Running Eagles opponent in Moraga, Calif. will be the winner of the April 29 Semifinal between Saint Mary’s and Arizona. The cable-televised National Championship showdown will kickoff at 4 p.m. PT.