Traveling in to West Point and winning a rugby game there is not easy.
But Arkansas State will have to do it. A year ago the University of Utah did just that. They did it by being unpredictable, opportunistic, and blessed with some astounding plays from Thretton Palamo.
The Redwolves are a different team from Utah. They don’t pull tries out of nothing in quite the same way. They are more direct, more like Army. Instead of the rapier against the broadsword, this will be two big blades clashing against shields.
“Last year was awesome having superstars on the field like Ben Leaatigaga and Dave Geib because they took us a long ways on their athleticism and experience,” said Will Holder last week. “This year we will be a much different team and will have to work much better as a team to match the scoring of last year's team. We are looking to be in better shape than we were last year and that has also been a big focus for the 15s season.”
They will also have to be stout on defense. What Arkansas State does as well as anyone is make the gain line. They might have been frustrated in their failure to finish off that possession with tries against Life, but they can dominate possession, and can wear out tacklers.
“Playing Life is very good preparation for us,” said ASU Head Coach Matt Huckaby. “We got some lessons from that and those games were dogfights. We know this game will be a dogfight, too.”
Huckaby said all the players are focused on better preparation for this quarterfinal.
“We did have the ball a lot against Life and couldn’t score as much as we’d like; we’ve focused on making good decisions and sticking to the scrips,” said the former 7s Eagle. “We can’t just go off script because it’s taking a while or because we’re frustrated.”
So it is a different situation for the Redwolves compared to Utah. Stay on script, rather than tear it up.
West Point, for their part, have Holder’s superb goalkicking, a pack that works very well together, and a backline that is playing better together – superstars or no – than it did last year. Karl Crist is probably their most dangerous back, but with Holder’s distribution skills, it doesn’t matter.
Army has won some close games, and maybe that will be the difference. Holder hopes so.
“We’ve been really focusing on going deep in the playoffs,” said Holder. “The team atmosphere has been great throughout the close games. Our team has really been able to come together and bond in a way that we can just look each other in the eye and we know that we won't let each other down.”