The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference’s inaugural title will be won this weekend in Montgomery, Ala. The semifinals are Saturday and the finals Sunday.
One semifinal features a heavy favorite, Tennessee, playing against a considerable underdog, Alabama. The Crimson Tide have reached the semis in their first year in DI-AA, which is a feat in and of itself, but will have to punch above their weight to knock off the Vols.
The other semifinal between Florida and LSU will be the Southern foes’ third meeting this season. They met in the fall in the Battleship Tournament in Mobile, Ala. and earlier this spring in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators won both meetings, but the latter by just two points.
“They had a real aggressive defense that really made it difficult to get anything going,” said Florida coach Ken Simmons. “It was one of those games where anyone could have won it. Looking forward to a heck of a rematch.”
LSU had lost its captain and half of its senior class, Jeff Levassuer, to a blown-out knee, and its starting Australian fullback to a shoulder injury, just before the last match against Florida. It also lost a starting prop to a nasty cut minutes into the contest.
“That’s the best team we were playing in the whole regular season. They’re a great team. They played a lot stronger than us,” said LSU captain Paul Rogers.
“Not as excuses, but having people playing different positions going into a strong team like that, that’s tough.”
Florida has suffered a big injury to, to Jason Lentz, who has been scoring a lot of tries for the Gators this season.
The SCRC has one automatic bid to the Sweet 16, and its runner-up is likely to receive an at-large berth to Nationals. However, with just three at-large bids to go around, it’s unlikely any league will be awarded two, making both semifinals a virtual play-in game.
“It’s pretty exciting. We made it to the final eight last year, and we’re excited about the prospect of being able to go for it again,” said Simmons. “We’re gearing ourselves up to try and go as long as we can, play as many games as we can this spring.”
Rogers says LSU is looking to win it all on Sunday, so as to avoid the selection process altogether.
“That’s pretty much the way we look at it. That’s how we’re going into it. We’re not going into it with any hopes, well maybe they’ll give us this or that. It’s easy - we win it or we don’t get it. No false hopes.”