LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Of the 12 teams in the 2016 D1A Playoffs, only two – Arizona and LSU – are making their first D1A postseason appearances. The Wildcats barely missed out on the 2015 Playoffs, while LSU just completed its first D1A season after several years playing in the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference.
The Tigers earned themselves a home game following a dominant 6-0 conference record and a Red River Championship.
“To be able to play this game in front of our home fans means the world to us,” said LSU lock Zach Stratton. “This being our first year in the D1A, to be able to earn a first round Playoff game has everyone fired up. I know the atmosphere on Saturday will not disappoint.”
LSU was rarely challenged throughout the regular season, winning each of its six matches by at least 30 points with the exception of an incredible battle with Texas A&M that ended in a two-point victory for the Tigers. The Wildcats are ranked higher than any team LSU has faced this season, and should present the Red River Champion its stiffest competition to date.
“We know that Arizona is a fast, strong, and talented squad that has played many highly-ranked teams,” said Stratton. “With that, we understand their skill level will be top notch. We will be challenged on the pitch, but we believe that if we play a solid, fundamentally sound match we will have a great game on Saturday.”
As LSU’s club president noted, Arizona has played an extremely difficult schedule this spring. During a brutal six-game stretch between January and February, which included the likes of Cal, Lindenwood, and Saint Mary’s, the Wildcats lost five of six games. Since then, Arizona has reeled off five consecutive wins by an average of 56 points per game.
“Our schedule was a bit front loaded, but it really helped us learn and grow as a group,” explained Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “We did this by design so we could fix things early, and now that we have made some progress there we’re starting to make some real strides.”
The Wildcats are coming into the opening round of the D1A Playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the country, but will take the field without three quality players who have been selected to the Junior All-American team that will compete at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Zimbabwe. However, this isn’t the first time this season Arizona has dealt with replacing U-20 All-Americans, and players like Bryce Mantell, Jack San Pietro, and Adam Wilson are expected to fill in seamlessly.
LSU has its own star to replace in Brennan Flacon. The flanker started for the Junior All-Americans in their Feb. 13 win over Canada, and will continue on with the team to Zimbabwe.
Even without arguably their best player, the Tigers will provide fierce opposition.
“LSU is a conference champ that has handled every team in their path, and they will be a good opponent,” Duffy said. “It’s going to be a great contest in their backyard, and as a conference champ they’ve earned a home game.”
The opening round D1A Playoff match between Arizona and LSU will kick off at noon CT and be broadcast on Gift-Time Rugby Network.