Tennessee and Florida are ranked No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, and they’re going to finish first and second (not necessarily in that order) in the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference.
The top-seeded Vols took care of business against Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide 32-21. Tennessee led 24-6 at halftime, but made some changes in an effort to keep legs fresh for Sunday’s final.
“We did manage our lineup as best we could all day today, because it is a two-day weekend,” said Tennessee coach Marty Bradley, who lauded the improvement of the Tide, which lost 56-0 to the Vols in February.
“Alabama played much better, obviously, than what they did a month ago. They had a good pattern of play, and they didn’t make the same mistakes they did a month ago.”
Florida had a much tighter rematch, but wound up beating LSU 35-17. It was the Gators’ third win over the Tigers this season.
Florida fly half Lucas Baistrocchi slotted 15 points with foot (three penalties and three conversions) and five more with ball in hand to lead the Gators.
Florida took its biggest lead of the game early in the second half, 22-5, with a converted try, but LSU scored a pair of tries in quick succession to pull within five at 22-17.
“We had a missed tackle and just didn’t have the defensive coverage that we normally do,” said Florida coach Ken Simmons of the first of the aforementioned LSU tries.
“Right after that we tried to play from behind the 22 and tried to do something fancy and blew it. We just didn’t have the coverage to make up for that mistake. LSU did a good job capitalizing. It was a tough match.”
Because LSU was never out of the game, Simmons didn’t get to rest as many players as he would have liked, especially members of the tight five. Florida’s calling card is being bigger than its opponent, so that could play a factor in the final.
“They are big kids, and they just get on you. They start running downhill and you better tackle them,” Bradley said of the Gators.
“They’re just going to have to step it up,” Simmons added.
The final kicks off at 1pm CST Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 in Knoxville, Tenn. The loser will be left hoping for an at-large bid to Nationals. When Tennessee traveled to Gainesville, Fla. in the regular season, they left 20-12 winners.