The University of Maryland will be watching with great interest Friday night’s clash between Clemson and Virginia Tech.
The Clemson Tigers are 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Rugby League, while Virginia Tech, which lost 28-22 to Maryland three weeks ago, is now 2-1. With the Terrapins also at 3-0, they will be hoping for a Hokies win to open the door for Maryland to take 1st (they play 0-4 Wake Forest on Saturday).
Certainly this is a massive game, which is why RUGBYMag.com is streaming it live (see video link below).
“Clemson are playing well and if you let them get over the gain line and get their pattern of play going, then they have shown that they can put games away early on,” said Virginia Tech Director of Rugby Andy Richard.
But the Tigers are vulnerable, said Richards. Virginia held them to a 19-8 scoreline (previous two victories for Clemson have been by 58 and 68 points, respectively). They did that by keeping up the pressure, holding onto the ball, and being patient – very patient.
“They have a lot of pace out wide and if you give them a sniff of an opportunity by not matching up, then they'll take it,” said Richards.
Continuity, however, had been an issue for Tech until last week. In beating Wake Forest 84-15 they showed themselves they could string several phases together and score. They will need more of that Friday.
“We are not a team of superstars and 1-23 all will have a part to play if we are to be successful,” said Richards.
However, senior flyhalf Paul Caron and senior No. 8 Mic Minichiello have been key contributors.
“Caron's distribution has improved immensely,” said Richards. “The 7s experience he has now means he is able kick, pass and cut back against a drifting defense really well. Minichiello is our captain and leads from the front. On offense he carries the ball a long way, punching holes in defenses around the breakdown and out in the backs. On defense, he regularly turns over ball at the breakdown when a ball-carrier goes to ground too early.”
Clemson, for their part, are not satisfied with being 3-0, especially as Virginia put a scare in the Tigers October 5.
“We were pretty critical of ourselves immediately following the Virginia match,” said Clemson Head Coach Justin Hickey. “But after analyzing the film, we may have been a bit hard on ourselves. We played a fairly decent match, but it just wasn’t in the manner we'd been used to winning. There were a lot of stoppages so neither team was really able to establish much continuity. We like to play an up-tempo style, so I think it frustrated us to be unable to take advantage of multiple phases and quick play.”
Hickey said the team hasn’t put in a complete performance, and execution hasn’t been perfect. But he expects that, saying that the quick fall means the team is only about a third of the way to where it needs to be come April (next spring the Tigers will compete in the Varsity Cup).
“So we're being patient, while continuing to raise the standard,” said Hickey. “But it's mostly fine-tuning, nothing drastic, so we'll feel good about where we are in our process. Virginia Tech is a really well-balanced team. Coach Richards has built that program up well, and they're operating at a high level. They have a solid forward pack and are very strong in set piece. Out wide, it's no surprise that they use space well and play with a lot of width. Their commitment to the 7s game is showing up in their 15s play. It's going to take a full, complete game, complete team performance for us to be successful on Friday night. We understand that it will be a difficult challenge, but we feel well rested after the fall break and well prepared for it.”
Craig Bucher has also been a key influence for Virginia Tech as their Head Coach, working with Richards. Both remember the last three games between the two teams, won by Clemson 19-17, 35-29, and 22-18.
“Let’s hope,” said Richards, “that this year, it’s our turn.”