The showdown is finally here, as Friday night sees the undefeated University of Maryland Terrapins take on the undefeated Clemson Tigers in a top-of-the-standings ACRL clash.
Clemson is coming off a 41-7 defeat of a really strong Virginia Tech game (that game was supposed to be streamed live by RUGBYMag. Unfortunately, a microphone placed too close to the venue speakers picked up too much music, prompting YouTube’s copyright police to shut the broadcast down – lesson learned).
The hard-charging Tigers are excellent at punishing mistakes and have been able to run rampant over their opponents. Only once, against Virginia, have they been held to less than 40 points.
Maryland, meanwhile, has had a little more trouble in winning their four league games. Most notable of these was a 28-22 defeat of Virginia Tech on September 28. But they defend well and control the game in tight, while unleashing a kicking game that makes the field long for their opponents.
Last week’s 36-12 defeat of Wake Forest might give pause, as Wake went into the game averaging over 50 points allowed. But Maryland Head Coach Jeff Soeken said there were mitigating factors.
“We came off a six-hour bus ride and just weren’t mentally ready to play when the game started,” said the Terrapin coach. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes as well. But the thing for us has been that we have not gotten the offensive production out of our outside backs that we’d like. So even though we controlled the game, we weren’t able to score as much as we should have.”
So blowouts might not be Maryland’s style, but they can certainly put a choke-hold on a pack of forwards.
“We are progressing and getting better,” said Soeken. “We are relatively healthy, and the guys are starting to follow the game plan more. What’s been really great for us has been the development of the Potomac Rugby Academy. I think half of our team has gone through that program, and it’s really helped us.”
Centers John Davis and Erik Tack, a converted scrumhalf, will be expected to make a big contribution Friday night for Maryland, while captain Matias Cima has a lot of work to do managing the kicking game. Up front, hooker Guy Lopresti, and loose forwards Connor Whitcomb and Ben Shafer have also been playing well.
And they will need to. Clemson has been excellent.
“We were really happy with the performance against Virginia Tech,” said Head Coach Justin Hickey. “It was arguably our most well-played game, especially defensively. We gave up one try, and that was on an interception. But there are still some things we need to clear up.”
The Tigers did make mistakes, but when they turned the ball over, it wasn’t in a dangerous part of the field, and their scramble defense recovered well. Hickey said he was pleased with how hard his players played throughout the game against the Hokies, and added he expects even more this weekend.
“Maryland mauls from the lineout really well and that sets up a good platform for their backs,” he said. “We need to handle that.”
Last year’s team MVP, prop Max Simons, is in good form and stood tall last week, while several young players are maturing. Freshman No. 8 Jason Damm is still relatively new to rugby but is an offensive force. At 6-4, 220, Damm, said Hickey, has enormous potential.
This will be a contest of two different styles. Maryland relies on their forwards and a smart kicking game. Clemson is speedier on attack and likes to probe the weakside. Both, however, have a perfect league record … until Friday.