Ohio State, Wisconsin battle to keep undefeated record alive

D1A Rugby: Ohio State, Wisconsin battle to keep undefeated record alive
Photo Credit: Greg Hildebrandt

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Two of the Big Ten Universities’ three unbeaten teams will fight to keep their unblemished records intact Saturday, Oct. 15, in Madison, Wisc., when Ohio State pays the Badgers a visit in a match with major conference championship complications.

A year ago the two sides met in a similar fashion in Columbus, Ohio. Both teams were undefeated and managed to keep their loss columns blank thanks to a hard-fought, 18-18, draw.

“Ohio State is a very well-coached, very talented team,” described Wisconsin Head Coach Nic Tyson. “They have strength in the forwards and in the back line. I think their strength that stands out the most is how much pressure they put on the opposition at the breakdown.”

The pressure being applied by the Buckeyes this season has been working quite well. In three conference matches Ohio State has only yielded 12 total points, and haven’t allowed a single point over its past 165 minutes of rugby.

“We’ve been drilling the defense, and the players are embracing the play,” Ohio State Head Coach Tom Rooney said. “We’ve also had a couple lucky calls go our way close to the goal line.”

Wisconsin has been hammering away its own philosophies at training, too. Tyson and his staff installed new systems on both attack and defense back in August. Fortunately, he has a senior-laden squad that has been able to digest the new concepts rather quickly.

“I think the players have a very good handle on what we’re trying to accomplish as far as our open-field systems go,” Tyson noted. “We aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe that we will play at a high level and make it tough for Ohio State to do what they want to do.”

The Badgers have been executing the new schemes well enough to post a plus-172 point differential in just three matches. The dominant stat demonstrates the team’s superiority over the bottom half of the Big Ten, but also creates some uneasiness heading into a game that is expected to be closely contested for 80 minutes. Making matters worse, multiple preseason fixtures scheduled to test Wisconsin were canceled, leaving the team without a hard-fought win heading into Saturday.

“It would definitely have been nice to get a close contest before this,” admitted Tyson.

“Despite all that, we’ve done what we could to stimulate pressure and put the players under duress. I think we’re prepared.”

While Wisconsin isn’t making excuses for its lack of competition up to this point of the season, neither is the away team for the roughly 500 miles it will need to cover to defend its unbeaten record. Traveling across the vast landscape of the Big Ten Conference is never easy, but the Buckeyes don’t see their eight hours of travel to get to Madison as any reason not to give the Badgers anything but their very best performance.

“Travel is part of the deal, isn’t it?” Rooney rhetorically asked. “Everyone gets three home and three away games.

“Being the home team always brings an advantage, but good teams understand they have to grind out wins on the road.”

Both squads run out lineups that are strong one through 15, making for intriguing individual matchups across the park. The most exciting matchup, however, can be found on the wing.

Ohio State danger man Jojo Eramo led the Big Ten in tries a year ago and scored a hat trick in the Buckeyes’ conference opener against Purdue. His opposite, Dane Fleck, has scored in each of Wisconsin’s three games, including his own trio of scores against the Boilermakers.

The winner of Saturday’s duel between Big Ten undefeateds will be in the driver’s seat to take on Indiana in the conference championship game. The Hoosiers, who went undefeated on their way to a 2015 Big Ten crown, are 4-0 and play Iowa this weekend.