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Rugby To Play California For National Title


JONESBORO – Arkansas State University’s rugby team will make its first-ever appearance in the Varsity Cup finals when it takes a trip out West in hope of securing a 15s national title, Saturday, May 6. The Red Wolves face the defending champion California Bears, who are making their fifth consecutive Varsity Cup final showing.

The Red Wolves, ranked fifth nationally, will depart Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 a.m. to fly to Santa Clara, Calif. The two teams will square off at 2 p.m. CT Saturday, at Stevens Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. NBC Sports Network will air the game on tape delay at 9:30 p.m. CT.

“Our energy level has really gone up over the last few weeks,” said second-year head coach Shaun Potgieter. “The attitude is there. We got better all season and have taken steps forward each week. We took each playoff game as one goal at a time.”

A-State knocked off Oklahoma (69-7) to advance to the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup quarterfinal, followed by victories over Utah Valley (39-12) and Navy (25-7) April 22 in the semifinals. The Navy match was played after a torrential rain that produced sloppy field conditions and made it tough to handle the ball.  Cal defeated Clemson (71-5) and Penn State (35-14) to make it to another title match.

“Cal is a very strong and dominant program,” continued Potgieter. “The coach (Jack Clark) has been around a long time. They are well coached. He knows how to work with college players. They have great athletes who are all in shape and athletically strong.”

Potgieter, whose team is 9-1-1 overall, acknowledged the Red Wolves play a very different kind of rugby that can be dictated by weather and field conditions. He doesn’t expect to change much.

“We have a young team. And, we know it’s a huge accomplishment to make it to the playoffs and championship. We’ve moved forward each year. We also know this is good publicity for our program and our university.”

Four seniors will be on the field for the Red Wolves, including team captain Blace Walser of Tulsa, Okla., Sione Fangaiuiha of Canberra, Australia, Kuda Makuvire of Harare, Zimbabwe, and Terrence Kennell of Anchorage, Alaska.

Potgieter, a five-time All-America selection as a player for A-State, praised several player efforts throughout the year, including Fangaiuiha, Preston Weigel of Houston, Texas, Zach Young of Gold Coast, Australia, and Tabo Maree of Amersfoort, South Africa.

“Blace Walser has been playing great and his leadership on the field has been terrific after returning from a four-week injury.

“Our players are happy and excited. Some of their families are flying to the West Coast. Television and social media will help recruiting and allow people to learn about our program.”

Championship tickets are $45 for preferred seating and $25 for general admission and may be purchased online at https://varsitycup.us/product/varsity-cup/.

A-State rugby is a two-time national champion after winning the 7s title in 2012 and 2013. A-State played in the USA Rugby D-1A 15’s National Championship against Brigham Young University (2012).The Red Wolves advanced to the 15s semifinal of the Varsity Cup in 2016, but fell to Brigham Young.

The primary difference between 15s and 7s is the number of players on the field. Additionally, 15s is played with two 40-minute halves.  Because of 15 players, the game is more about control and strength rather than speed. Fifteens also lends itself to having more support players.

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