BOULDER, Colo. – With four teams ranked in the top half of the Canterbury D1A Top 20, Rugby East has been flexing its muscles during the first half of the fall college rugby season. It is, however, no surprise considering the conference has been one of the very best in the nation for several years.
The reigning Rugby East Champion, Army, has stormed out of the gates. West Point refused to give up a single point until its Sept. 26 win over No. 10 Wheeling Jesuit, and now sits 5-0 and ranked fourth in the country. Kutztown (3-0 Rugby East, 5-0 overall) is the only other team in the conference without a loss, but the Golden Bears haven’t yet faced the likes of Penn State and Wheeling Jesuit – both of which Army has already gotten past in victorious fashion.
“Until we see Kutztown against another of the top teams it will be tough to say, but, for the most part, the season is playing out as I think most people expected,” said St. Bonaventure Head Coach and Rugby East Commissioner Clarence Picard. “Army’s transition to varsity and hiring of Matt Sherman was a major move, and set them in a position to control their own destiny.”
The conference champion could very well be decided Oct. 24 when Kutztown hosts Army, but it surely doesn’t mean other sides haven’t been playing quality rugby. Penn State, a D1A Quarterfinalist last spring, is once again proving to be one of the better squads in the country. Meanwhile, Wheeling Jesuit has held strong to its No. 10 ranking despite two losses – a sign of huge respect for both the Cardinals and the entire Rugby East Conference.
As for the half of the conference that is currently unranked, Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, and West Virginia are winless, while Iona has already won more conference matches than it did all of last season, and recently made its first appearance in the Top 20. The Gaels, although vastly improved, have yet to earn a true Rugby East scalp, and the other teams in the bottom half of the standings haven’t sniffed a win. So, is a major upset in the cards for the second half of the season?
“I think we might need to wait another year for one of the teams from the bottom half to rise up, but Iona is getting very close so it could happen any week now,” Picard declared.
Looking beyond the fall, Rugby East appears to be a conference that could make noise in the D1A Playoffs. However, Kutztown has been adamant on focusing on sevens during the spring, even at the cost of skipping a postseason in 15s. Army and Penn State, as history suggests, are capable of making a playoff run, and Wheeling Jesuit should be better prepared for finals footy after getting its first taste of the postseason last spring.
“St. Mary’s and the Mid South squads have been the teams to beat, but our weekly competition is improving the Rugby East teams and we hope this is the year a Rugby East team makes a deep run in the Playoffs,” suggested Picard.
Action out of the East picks up again Oct. 17 with a trio of exciting fixtures. Kutztown will receive its toughest of the season thus far when No. 10 Wheeling Jesuit comes to town. Iona, which nearly pulled off an upset of Army last year, will get another crack at West Point – this time at home on the campus of Iona. Lastly, in a match of teams still seeking their first ever Rugby East win, Buffalo hosts West Virginia.