This weekend the fall D1A season officially kicks off with one of its newest members, The University of Notre Dame, playing their first game of the season. The Fighting Irish, playing as independents, will take on their traditional rivals, the University of Michigan on Friday at 6:30pm. While Notre Dame might be the only one playing a conference game, others around the country will continue their preseason matches in earnest.
Michigan’s Wolverines will be making the trip into enemy territory as they enter South Bend to take on the Irish. Now the Irish have found a home in the top flight of men’s collegiate rugby, they know the challenges will be greater and the stakes will be higher. It is a journey they’re looking forward to. “We’re happy to receive the D1A designation this year.” Head Coach, Justin Hickey said. “As an independent it helps to provide se clarity around the level to which our programs compete.”
As these two teams prepare to face off for the DeHaven and Harless Trophy the anticipation continues to build around campus. “The fall is a special time in South Bend, and the excitement level is continuing to rise,” noted Hickey. “We expect a great atmosphere on Friday night. Competing against traditional institutional rivals is always exciting… I’m sure both teams are very much looking forward to this one.”
It is still early in the season for both teams, so you can expect the teams to play a much more conservative pattern, than they may venture into as the season progresses. However, while their play may not be as electric as they hope it to be Hickey is still expecting ruthless execution.
“Being only 6 days into our season, we’re still quite vanilla in our tactical approach, but we’ll expect to be uncompromising without technical play. It will be important for us to limit the individual errors, be efficient in critical zones of the field, and of course take advantage of any opportunities from turnovers we’re able to force.”
Michigan will be coming into the new season full of confidence as well. After a promising start to their 2017-18 season, the Wolverines dropped their final four games to finish 2-5. A spring tour to Colombia has reinvigorated the team, and they will look to capture the excitement which is laying the backdrop for this weekend, channeling it into a result on Friday night.
While, the Irish are excited for what the future holds, they know with the new territory comes new obstacles. However, they are ready to embrace these new tests as they come. Hickey outlined what will need to happen if he, and his team, are to have a successful season, “Our goal each season is to improve day to day and grow from match to match. If we’re honest with ourselves, and can claim that we’re better week to week, and from November to August, and we’re competitive week in and week out, it will have been a successful fall season.”
Elsewhere in D1A, the Liberty Conference is wrapping up its preseason with some interdivisional matchups. The Iona Gaels will face the UMass Minutemen on Thursday. While Cortland, will travel to western New York, in a Rugby East Liberty cross over, as they face the University of Buffalo. Stony Brook will travel from Long Island to New York’s capital, to play Albany. Syracuse will be hoping across the border, to play their annual match against Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
It is an exciting weekend of rugby ahead, and will set the stage for an exciting year of D1A action.