Rugby to Host Clemson in First Round of Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Championship
JONESBORO — Arkansas State University’s rugby team will begin the first leg toward a 15s national title when the Red Wolves host Clemson, Saturday, April 9, in the first round of play in the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship. Action gets underway at 12:30 p.m. at the Rugby Pitch, 501 Red Wolf Trail.
Fans are encouraged to arrive early to see the recognition of A-State’s senior players in pregame ceremonies. In addition, the A-State Campus Food Pantry will set up a booth to collect non-perishable food items throughout the match, and members of the rugby team will sell tee shirts for $10 each.
Fans can also purchase tickets for the Penn Mutual CRC 7s tournament, June 4-5 in Philadelphia, from Matt Huckaby, executive director of student health and wellness and administrator of the rugby program. A two-day Arkansas State field level team pass is $38, a 41-percent savings from the public price of $64. If Red Wolf fans are unable to travel to the tournament, purchased tickets will be donated to fans who travel to watch the team or local supporters.
“This weekend is a great opportunity for the players to showcase their talent and chemistry as a team,” stated A-State head coach Shaun Potgieter. “This is our second year in the Varsity Cup, so we are still somewhat ‘newcomers’ and enjoy the challenges that lie ahead of us.”
The clash between the Red Wolves and the Tigers is a rematch from last year’s first round when A-State dropped a narrow 26-22 upset decision. Potgieter, in his first year as head coach, is hoping for a different outcome this weekend.
“I don’t think we can compare to last year’s team,” said Potgieter. “We had 12 starters injured last year, and this year we don’t have any injured starters. Also, we will be playing at home which makes a big difference compared to playing on the road. We have also added great talent to the squad this year.
“Clemson has played a tough, passionate brand of rugby in recent years. They are a team that plays hard in the trenches and their players work hard together to manufacture positive results.”
He also noted that the Tigers have great ball carriers and a good open field kicking game, and they play with passion and have a good physical presence up front.
But, Arkansas State is not without its own strengths. Potgieter is counting on several individuals, including Alex Goff, Blace Walser, Zinzan Elan-Puttick and Zach Young, to utilize their leadership and experience to help reinforce team play.
“A-State has great strike runners in the forwards and the backs with play makers that can create scoring opportunities out of nothing. But, our ultimate strength would have to be our defense. Our players put their bodies on the line to defend for their teammates next to them.
“Alex is a senior and this will be his last home game,” continued Potgieter. “He has been one of our best performers this season, so I’m expecting him to lead from the front and continue his great form on the pitch. Blace has raised his play and knowledge tremendously this year and always gives it 100 percent. I expect him to cause a few turnovers because that has become a trademark of his play.
“Zinzan is also a senior, so this will be his last match at home, too. He has played here for two national championships and wants to finish off his college career with another one. And, I expect Zach to have a huge impact on defense in the midfield and use his top class skills on attack, creating scoring opportunities and, hopefully, scoring a few himself.”
It has been a long layoff for the Red Wolves who last played Life University March 12. Both teams played through rainy, sloppy weather conditions, with A-State eventually dropping the heartbreaker to Life, 32-15.
“We really don’t know if this layoff will be a benefit or hurt us,” Potgieter added. “We are happy to have a healthy, injury-free squad that was a result of the long layoff.
“I feel blessed and grateful to be able to coach a group of respectful, hard working, and determined young men. I couldn't have asked to lead a better group of players into the playoffs and I have all the confidence in every one of them.”