Round of 16 Preview

D1A Rugby: Round of 16 Preview
Photo Credit: Army Rugby

The first weekend of the 2019 playoffs is almost here and with it, it brings a slew of brilliant matchups, bursting with potential for upsets and dazzling displays of college rugby at its finest. The playoffs have been split into Eastern and Western brackets, with the winner of each advancing through to the National Championship. Every game will be broadcast live through FloRugby, with CBS Sports also broadcasting the Eastern and Western Regional Championships and the National Championship.

East:

#1 Life vs. #8 Penn State University- 12pm:

This will be the second time in three weeks that these two teams have face each other. Life and Penn State closed out the regular season with a scintillating display of running rugby and gave a glimpse into how exciting this matchup could be. Penn State opened the game with a quick 10 point lead, before Life shut the door on any comeback attempt by reeling off 38 unanswered points. While the backs may be the most explosive part of this game, the forwards on each team will determine who wins. If Penn State’s forwards can disrupt Life’s ability to get the ball to their backs, and can dominate at set piece, they very well could pull of the major upset.

#2 Army vs. #7 Arkansas State 12pm ET:

One of the closest matches of the opening round will be played between Army and Arkansas State. Neither team has played each other this season, but they have played some of the same opposition. Army went 0-2 against Navy and Lindenwood this year, while Arkansas State went 1-2. Despite the losing records against these teams, they both have had very strong seasons. Army, led by a forward pack including Bailey Abercrombie and Paul Adams and a backline with lethal speedsters like Jason Green, tore through Rugby East. Arkansas State, similarly have a very strong forward pack led by the likes of Asa Carter and Pedro Alvarez and a backline with the likes of Dylan Boast and Mazvitaieshe Nyamarebvu. These two teams match up very well and with Army playing at home, they might have the slight edge.

#3 Wisconsin vs. # 6 Lindenwood 2pm ET:

Making their first apperance in the D1A post season, is Wisconsin. They will have the tough task of taking on a very strong Lindenwood squad. Wisconsin were a force to be reckoned with in the Big 10 this season, only dropping one game but making amends for it in the championship match. They are led by their very skilled flyhalf Owen Sheehy. However, they will have their work cut out for them going up against the likes of Lindenwood’s Wesley White and Evan Williams. Lindenwood play smart rugby and play well within the systems they’ve put in place. Wisconsin will need to find ways of getting under the skin of Lindenwood and disrupting their systems if they are to advance through to the next round.

#4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Navy: 2pm ET

Two strong forward packs will collide in the Oklahoma, Navy game. Oklahoma won the Red River conference this year, mainly due to their pack’s ability to dominate around the set piece, and it was a tight head scrum that sealed the deal for them in the Red River championship match. Navy, similarly have a strong forward pack which has dominated time and time again. They are also aided by Cole Euverard, their scrumhalf who has a high degree of rugby intelligence. He is gifted with one of the strongest tactical kicking games in the competition and can put the pressure on teams from pinning them down in their own ends. Fitness will also play a massive role in the match. Navy has exceptional fitness, which when locked into a tough physical battle will prove to be key in coming out on top. In the end whoever wins the battle up front will win the game.  

West:

#1 Cal vs. #8 UC Davis- 4pm ET

These two have met before, earlier in the season and on that occasion it was a lopsided victory to Cal. However, UC Davis has blossomed late in the season and look strikingly different to the team that took the pitch against Cal last time out. Cal, after beating Saint Mary’s to close out the regular season will be firm favorites entering the contest. Their tight five is one of the strongest in the country and their back three are lethal. While UC Davis has improved over the year, Cal will likely still be too strong.

#2 Saint Mary’s vs. #7 Grand Canyon 6pm ET:

Two California conference foes will go up against each other, with the Saint Mary’s holding the edge. Last time they met it was a convincing win to the Gaels. Grand Canyon are a team that are taking great strides under coach Cam Wyper, and can score at the drop of a hat, but they are still not quite at the same level as Saint Mary’s. Expect the Sean Yacoubian and Vili Helu to have a massive impact on the game for the Gaels.

#3 BYU vs. #6 UCLA 3pm ET:

BYU had one of the strongest springs out of any team in D1A. Rummaging through their opposition, they had not issue winning the Rocky Mountain conference. However, their form in the Spring has seen them drop of significantly. Uncharacteristic score lines and mistakes have been the hallmark of their Spring. A massive 80 point performance last weekend against Utah, may be the turnaround they were looking for, but they know they’ll have a tough ask against an inform UCLA team this weekend. UCLA has surged up into the forefront of the competition this Spring and have some believe they have it in them to take a deep run into the playoffs. Led by the Barry brothers in the backline and Yanick Mendes in the forwards they are stacked with talent. BYU will have home field advantage which could prove to be a massive help to them, as the altitude and cold conditions could work against the men from Los Angeles. It will be a close game and one with plenty of scoring.   

#4 Arizona vs. #5 Central Washington 6pm ET

Perhaps the most evenly matched game of the weekend will see Arizona take on Central Washington. Both teams have had high quality wins against high quality opponents this season, as well as some tough losses. They are both exceptionally well coached by Sean Duffy and Todd Thornley and they both have forward packs that crave contact and fly halves that control the match perfectly. It will be a game that goes down to the wire and whichever team can control the tempo and take the few chances afforded to them, will walk away victors.