The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference sets sail on its maiden voyage this weekend, as five games fill the opening weekend. South Carolina hosts Kentucky, Florida travels to Georgia, Vanderbilt plays at Tennessee, Alabama hosts LSU and Ole Miss plays at Mississippi State.
At every turn, there’s a rivalry game. The culture of these Southern colleges ensures that no one wants to lose to anyone else, any week. But, there are two particularly contentious rivalry games Saturday -- the rugby versions of the Egg Bowl and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Florida has a long winning streak over Georgia in the latter, one which UGA coach Doug Porter guesses must go back at least five years. But, Porter thinks the Bulldogs have a chance to knock off the Gators in Athens if they can get enough possession.
“Definitely. In the backline we’re genuinely dangerous,” he said. “Up front, its more a question of if our pack can win the ball or not.”
Florida traditionally has a very large pack. Despite graduating RUGBYMag DI-AA All American prop Darrell Meckley, Florida still has a big pack. But, Georgia has a talented backline. It’s headlined by center Will Farrell, the age-grade Eagle and RUGBYMag DI-AA All American. He’s flanked by flyhalf Pierre Naude outside center John Ross, an outstanding transfer from Valdosta State. They'll line up across from Gator flyhalf Lucas Baistrocchi and Matias Groetaers, whose eligibility has been extended due to being accepted into UF's grad school.
Georgia and Florida have met many times, but this being the first SCRC clash has added flare.
“They love having and SEC schedule,” said Porter. “It’s easy to get people excited about SEC schools coming to town. It’s a lot easier to get a crowd out to watch Florida or Mississippi than it is Arkansas State, even though Arkansas State’s the better team.”
On the eastern edge of SEC country, intrastate rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State renew one of the region’s most bitter rivalries.
“The rivalry is huge down here, no matter what sport it is. It just doesn’t matter. The two schools, all the kids know each other,” said Mississippi State backs coach Renaldo Arroyo.
“Mississippi is a small enough state that everybody has either gone to high school with somebody who’s over there or grew up with somebody over there. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody wants to be on top. Nobody wants to be the one that lost to Ole Miss.”
Like the conference’s other Bulldogs, MSU’s are trying to buck a losing streak Saturday, as the Rebels haven’t lost to MSU in six years. The games haven’t been blowouts, and they haven’t been pretty. Fights and sloppy play, fueled by emotion, have marred the play on the field.
Arroyo, the former Texas Tech coach in grad school in Starksville, is hoping to get the ball moving more in his first Egg Bowl game.
“What I’m hoping for is to bring some nice, clean, inventive rugby out there this weekend,” he said, “but the forecast is predicting thunderstorms all weekend, so it might just end up being another sloppy, hard-hitting type of battle.”