The Central Michigan Chippewas won their first game of the year by a slim 23-20 margin over Ball State last weekend on the road. This weekend, they return to Mount Pleasant, Mich. to take on in-state rivalry Western Michigan for a chance at supremacy.
Coaches Kevin Manley and Andrew Stead admit last weekend’s game against the Cardinals was every bit as close as the score indicated. A kick or two by Ball State could’ve easily started their season with a loss.
“That team is going to be good this year,” both coaches said.
The good news is the win, the bad is the schedule is not going to get any easier. Now, Western Michigan will be the traveling team and with them comes a lot of ferocity and a personal vendetta against a team they lost to twice last year and are coming off a loss of Bowling Green 37-5.
“It was our first game at the DI level and playing against one of the best gave us a lot of positives and things we need to work on,” WMU coach Mark Allen said. “The score definitely made it look worse than it actually was.”
For the WMU Broncos, it will be about improving on their set pieces in the backline and getting more physical in the scrums for their forward pack. “If we are able to win the scrums and get clean ball to our backline, we are going to be pretty dangerous.”
The only hope is that the Broncos can bring their best side on the bus. It’s been a problem for Coach Allen over the past years; being able to work his way around military, job and school commitments from his players.
“As always, we will find replacements and give ourselves the best possible chance to win,” Allen said.
For the Chippewas, it’s going to be about their fitness and ability to play consistently physical for a full game. Both coaches harped the importance of not only fitness in practice, but personal as well.
“We only get about 4 hours a week, so the guys need to dedicate themselves to doing conditioning on their own,” CMU coach Andrew Stead said. “We do it in drills, but our time together is not nearly enough for a full game.”
So what exactly are both coaches going to be looking for from their squad this weekend? Lining up and playing some good old fashioned smash-mouth rugby.
“That’s our style, we want to able to lineup and beat teams with our physicality and strength,” CMU coach Greg Manley said. “We have been working a lot on tackling and rucking with a lot of intensity and we want that to translate to the pitch tomorrow.”
Unfortunately CMU will be without a few key forwards this weekend, but with good depth they didn’t have to look very far for the next in line. Leading the way will be Patrick Keaey at the open-side flanker position and Harry Cassidy, all 150 pounds of him.
“Patrick is a senior and someone who is versatile and always making plays,” Manley said. “Cassidy hasn’t started a game this year, but is extremely fit and has earned his spot this weekend. He may not be the biggest guy on the pitch (smallest forward on the team) but is an excellent open-field tackler.”
To counter Allen and Western Michigan have a few players of their own that can return the favor of getting after it on the pitch.
“Will Rickert is our open-side and is always around the ball and is a monster defensively with a positive attitude,” Allen said. “Dan Cocci will be play at outside center and captain for us, he is just a very consistent player.”
As for that in-state rivalry, both Manley and Stead said it definitely is an advantage to have home field advantage in a game like this.
“We have to go out and prove that we are the best in Michigan,” both stated. “We will be playing with a lot of motivation in front of our home crowd and pride to leave no doubt.”