The best in the Midwest collide in crucial Big Ten weekend

D1A Rugby: The best in the Midwest collide in crucial Big Ten weekend
Photo Credit: Clarkston Photography

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The top four teams in the Big Ten Universities Conference are on collision course Saturday, Oct. 29. Sixth-ranked Indiana will host another undefeated side in Wisconsin, while Michigan pays No. 19 Ohio State a visit.


#6 Indiana vs. #15 Wisconsin
After posting a plus-379 point differential in its first five Big Ten matches, Indiana looked like an unstoppable juggernaut. That was until Notre Dame College upset the Hoosiers, 31-30, last week. Still, the loss to the Falcons is not the end of the world for Indiana. Notre Dame College is proving to be one of the better sides in the country this season having already beaten D1A Rugby’s 10th-ranked Davenport, as well as Rugby East’s St. Bonaventure and Wheeling Jesuit.

Regardless of last week’s result, Wisconsin still understands just how tough of a task taking on the Hoosiers will be.

“Indiana has a lot of strengths on the field,” complimented Wisconsin Head Coach Nic Tyson. “They are very fit and very strong. They are well-drilled in the set piece and at the breakdown. They also have players that respond quickly to differing situations. We are the underdog for a good reason, but I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Indiana might be coming off a loss, but that could be a good thing for the conference’s first-place team. Prior to their contest with Notre Dame College, the Hoosiers were blowing out every team in their path. Being put under pressure for 80 minutes might have been just what Indiana needed heading into a match against a team that fell just seven points short in a meeting with the eventual Big Ten Champions a year ago.

Like the Hoosiers, Wisconsin was walloping its first handful of conference foes. Also in a similar fashion to its Oct. 29 opponent, the Badgers were recently put through an 80-minute test. Two weeks ago Ohio State made the trip to Madison, Wisc., and stood toe to toe with Wisconsin before the home team eventually prevailed, 19-15.

“I do think the game against Ohio State was a beneficial experience for us,” Tyson said. “They made us work a lot harder to be successful at things that were coming somewhat easy up to then. They also really tested our defense at times and watching that film helped us shore up some spots.”

In order for Wisconsin to get the better of Indiana in a game in which its coach describes his team as an “underdog,” the Badgers that have been in their best form must play well. Anyone who has played Wisconsin this season will tell you the team is strong one through 15, but backs Tyler Crass and Dan Pettay, as well as forwards Calvin Carlson and Josh Kowalczyk, will need to continue the fine seasons they’re having for the Badgers to pull off the upset.


#19 Ohio State vs. Michigan
There aren’t many bigger rivalries in college sports than the long-standing contention between Michigan and Ohio State.

“The Big Ten is one of the greatest conferences for rivalries, and rugby is no different,” said Michigan Head Coach Brandon Sparks. “Then you add in championship ramifications, and you have yourself one heck of an exciting week.”

Both the Wolverines and Buckeyes hold one Big Ten loss to their records, while Indiana and Wisconsin remain undefeated. Still, both Michigan and Ohio State are very much in the mix for the Nov. 12 Big Ten Championship game.

“We recognize the importance of this game,” Ohio State Head Coach Tom Rooney stated. “Not just in current standings, but because of the rivalry, history and intensity.”

Last year’s matchup, specifically, exemplified the intense history between the two programs. The physically grueling fixture witnessed five lead changes before Ohio State eventually prevailed, 35-31, after keeping Michigan short of the end line during its 11-phase possession at the very end of the match.

The Buckeyes have some quality players, including winger JoJo Eramo and eight man Nate Heister in their tool box, and are pleased with the steady improvement of their set pieces since their Oct. 15 loss to Wisconsin. Still, the Ohio State coaching staff doesn’t believe the outcome of this week’s game will come down to rosters or schemes.

“I can talk to you all you want about strategy and game plan and such, but it’s heart and discipline that win these games,” Rooney said. “Games these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Michigan’s lineup, although not as deep as Ohio States, still has plenty of fire power. Included in the list of impressive Wolverines are tight head prop Nick Azzopardi and center Tohy Rakotovololona – who both hold a tie atop the team’s try-scoring sheet.

It’s not likely that anyone from the Michigan camp would disagree that it’s going to require heart and discipline to win on Saturday, but Sparks is encouraging his squad to attempt to treat the rivalry game like any other.

“We need to play the game and not the occasion,” Sparks suggested. “Yes, it’s a big game and a lot will be settled once the final whistle goes, but we really need to focus on the execution of the process over 80 minutes to get the result we want.”

Two other Big Ten Conference matches will be contested Saturday, Oct. 29, when Illinois hosts Purdue and Minnesota travels to Iowa.