Fort Benning, Ga. - It’s the off day at the Armed Forces Championship, and it’s a crucial day for all the teams as they take a break between Wednesday’s two matches and Friday’s two matches.
All that culminates in Saturday’s finals.
For years the Armed Forces Championships actually ran for three days straight. But coaches remember when Cal Head Coach Jack Clark came in to help the Marine Corps team, and urged the tournament to take at least one off day.
That, combined with reducing game lengths to 30-minute halves, has helped preserve the athletes a bit more.
It hasn’t had much change on the results, though, as Air Force continues to win, and came through the first day 2-0.
Air Force team director Wayne Kinsel said the team has expectations, but they also have confidence. Many of the players on the Air Force team have won championships and know what it takes to get there.
Many other teams have started to adopt Air Force’s approach, but Kinsel said it’s nothing fancy.
“It’s a very simple game plan, but we try to execute it well,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “We try to maintain possession, suck in defenders, and then get it out wide.”
Air Force also has a solid group of 25 players, and are able to use all their subs. This has helped them stay fresh through the five games in four days.
Against the US Marine Corps they got a big game from lock David Davies, and from back Cameron Freeman (both staff sergeants). Davies was excellent at securing the ball from restarts, and also was strong in the lineouts.
“We look at the restarts as another possession platform for us and he set it,” said Kinsel.
Meanwhile Freeman led the attack out wide.
In the second match, a 31-5 defeat of the US Navy, pack captain and hooker Jamie Arthur was perfect on his lineout throws, and his presence highlighted an issue for the Air Force squad – one other teams would love to have.
“We have a very good squad and sometimes it’s hard to find playing time for guys,” said Kinsel. “With Jamie playing so well Joe Schwab is not getting time, and he’s outstanding.”
In the backs against Navy, recent Air Force Academy grad, Lt. Carson Cleveland came off the bench and made an impact at flyhalf. John Feely moved to fullback and while the Navy backs blitzed on the Air Force centers to contain them, Cleveland took the gaps offered and scored two tries.
Looking ahead, Air Force will face 2-0 Coast Guard late on Friday, and quite likely again on Saturday in the championship match.
“I think Coast Guard is a tough team and it was awesome to see them in the championship match last year,” said Kinsel. “We will enjoy playing them. They have a good defense but if we stick to our game plan we’ll be OK. We have more subs available than they do, which will also help us.”