Running Eagles welcome Cougars to Life University for exciting Semifinal fixture

D1A Rugby: Running Eagles welcome Cougars to Life University for exciting Semifinal fixture
Photo Credit: AWride Photography (left) & Karen Drinkwater (right)

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – A Semifinal contest between Brigham Young University and Life University in Marietta, Ga., will determine one of the finalists for the May 6 D1A Rugby National Championship. The winner between BYU and Life will be booking travel arrangements to California where Saint Mary’s College will host the 2017 National Championship Final, which will air live on CBS Sports Network.

A year after going undefeated on their way to the 2016 D1A Rugby National Championship, the Running Eagles are again unbeaten this season. Most recently, Life beat No. 5 Lindenwood for a third time this year in the April 22 Quarterfinals. A four-try first half powered the Running Eagles to a 37-20 win, but the 17-point victory included a few lapses the reigning National Champions will look to avoid Saturday, April 29, against BYU.

“In our review we recognized that at 31-6 we began to wander in what got us there, and basics like ball security and kicking accuracy got loose,” noted Life Head Coach Scott Lawrence. “The men were able to find it again and generate defensive pressure and penalties that regained territory and points for us.”

The Lions provided their conference rivals excellent competition, but Life is looking forward to its Semifinal matchup after playing a Mid-South foe in each of the previous three penultimate playoff matches.

“We’re happy for the variety. BYU’s a class program with a legendary coaching staff of honorable men,” said Lawrence. “We’re more grateful to take the pitch with them than anything else related to the league or playoff structure.”

The Semifinal hosts aren’t the only ones excited for Saturday’s fixture. Less than a year after Life won the D1A Rugby National Championship and BYU won the Varsity Cup invitational, college rugby fans will be salivating over the encounter of these two juggernauts of the sport that have not played one another since the 2012 D1A Rugby Semifinals. Five years ago, an upstart Life program went to Provo, Utah, and nearly knocked off the Cougars before they had the opportunity to beat Arkansas State a week later for a National Championship.

Soon after that 2012 Semifinal BYU departed for the Varsity Cup competition, while Life has appeared in each of the four National Championship Finals since then, winning D1A Rugby titles in 2013 and 2016.

BYU only has one more loss against college opposition this year than the undefeated Running Eagles. Since losing on the road to Saint Mary’s back in February, BYU’s only loss was a narrow defeat to a Glendale Raptors senior club side that is littered with current Eagles. Other strenuous tests came in the form of a pair of wins out of the Cougars’ home-and-away fixtures against Central Washington, but their Quarterfinal versus Indiana was sound preparation for No. 2-ranked Life. BYU ended the Hoosiers’ season with a 44-17 win, but the Big Ten Universities Champions didn’t make things easy on the Cougars.

“They were fairly aggressive at the break down, which tested us, as well,” BYU Head Coach David Smyth said of last week’s game. “They had some good runners and were very good with ball in hand, so we had to keep on our toes. But I think the physicality and their competitiveness at the breakdown was something that we had to really watch and try to counteract.”

BYU appreciated the ferocity that Indiana brought to the pitch, because a similar style of immense physicality is expected from Life. Still, if the Cougars can mirror the commitment they showed on defense against the Hoosiers they feel they have a good chance to topple the Running Eagles.

“Saturday we’ll be looking to have the same defensive effort that we had against Indiana. I was impressed with Indiana. They are a very good team. So our hopes and expectations will be another big effort on the defensive side of the ball as far as taking time and space away, and running good defensive lines.”

Like Life, BYU can play both a physical, down-your-throat style, as well as a dynamic brand of rugby that utilizes the entire width of the pitch. While the Cougars’ impressive size often causes the most concern for teams, the Running Eagles’ coaching staff sees a back line that has the skills to cause headaches. Lawrence is impressed with the speed and accuracy in which BYU’s half backs work and “combine that with a formidable back three and they can play some exciting rugby.”

It’s apparent that the Cougars have done their due diligence on their Semifinal opponent. The staff at BYU, in particular, has broken down the film and sees an organized unit that is multifaceted as its own team.

“They’re a very active side and they’re physical, but they’re quick,” complimented Smyth. “They look like they’ve got a lot of good systems going on and they are very well coached and well drilled. It’s going to be a huge task for us to go down there and be able to play against them.”

The team left standing April 29 after 80 minutes at Lupo Family Field will earn a trip to the May 6 D1A Rugby National Championship at Saint Mary’s Stadium in Moraga, Calif. The 2017 D1A Championship Final will kick off at 4 p.m. PT and air live on CBS Sports Network. Saturday’s Semifinal will kickoff at 1 p.m. ET and be broadcasted on Life University Rugby’s Facebook page.

The second May 6 finalist will be determined when Saint Mary’s takes on Arizona in the other D1A Rugby Semifinal.