Life has been one of the standard bearers for D1A, reaching the final six straight years and capturing three titles in the process. After beating Cal in the final last season, Life has yet to lose a game this year and is the odds on favorite to come out of the east.
Although they are undefeated, the Running Eagles have been tested during this regular season more so than in years past. One of those games was an 18-17 duel with the Naval Academy on home turf.
With Navy slated to host the playoff game this weekend, can they do the unthinkable and knock out Life? Can a Military Academy, with a majority of its players never having touched a rugby ball, before committing to a life of service, beat a college that has made rugby its main sport on campus?
There are a number of factors that make this game arguably the most exciting game of the weekend. If Navy could nearly take down Life in Marietta, the prospects of playing in front of a home crowd should excite the Midshipmen.
“Playing at home is always exciting for us. The Prusmack Rugby Complex has hosted some great events the last couple of years, brought some exciting crowds and been a great atmosphere for our guys to play in. We are looking to turn it into a rugby fortress and a win over Life this weekend will go a long way in doing that,” said Navy coach Gavin Hickie.
Additionally, with Navy’s move to the Mid-South this season and scheduling games with non-conference opponents like St. Mary’s, the Mid-Shipmen are battle tested.
“The move to the Mid-South is preparing us for games like this weekend,” said Hickie. “Most of our team had never picked up a rugby ball prior to entering the Academy. Putting them in high stress environments week in and week out will benefit us come playoff time.”
Finally, Navy head coach Gavin Hickie is a master technician of the game. Having played professionally at Leinster and been successful coaching everywhere he’s been including Dartmouth and the Collegiate-All Americans, Navy will have learned from the first crack at life and make adjustments.
Beating Life, however, is no easy feat. Head coach Colton Cariaga played his way through Life and is now at the helm of one the most successful college programs of the last decade.
Often referred to as the rugby factory, Life University is one of the best teams in the country at making adjustments in game and after seeing an opponent already this season. This game could turn into a chess match between two of the most adept coaches in the college game.
“The Rugby IQ at Life University is extraordinary. With such a talented group of players and coaches Life are a tough team to beat,” added Hickie. “They will surely make adjustments from the last time we played and will be ready for us during this go around.”
The Running Eagles have only lost a handful of games over the last five years to college opponents and have not lost since falling to St. Mary’s in the national championship in 2017.
Can David take down Goliath? The game kicks off at 12 p.m. ET. Tune into FloRugby to catch the action.