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Top-ranked ASU rugby team defeats No. 7 Davenport, 60-27


By Pat Clifton (courtesy of RUGBYMAG.com) 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Arkansas State Red Wolves clinched a playoff spot with a 60-27 win over Davenport Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. For the Panthers, it was the first home loss in the program’s four-season history.

The two teams previously met March 16 in Jonesboro and ASU rallied on a last-minute try to win 31-25.

ASU came out of the gates quickly in the return match, putting in two converted tries in the opening minutes. Center Zinzan Elan-Puttick ran one in and wing Dale Bates the other. Flyhalf Pat Sullivan slotted the conversions.

While it seemed as though the Red Wolves were going to run away with the game, Davenport clawed back into the contest with a 13-point run started by back-to-back penalties kicked by JP Eloff. The Panthers then caught a break – they put the ball deep in Arkansas State’s end, applied pressure, charged down a kick and jumped on it in the try zone. Eloff converted, cutting the deficit to one at 14-13.

Arkansas State then went on another run, this one effectively deciding the contest. The Red Wolves strung together 25-straight points to close out the first half. Sullivan started the run with consecutive penalties. Then the Red Wolves mauled in a short try off of a penalty. Dean Gericke and Tom Haussrer also dotted down before intermission, putting the game out of reach at 39-13.

ASU scored a pair of converted tries to open the second-half, too, capping off a 39-point run in the meat of the game.

“We had a little bit of a let off and they obviously picked things up quite a bit, but we just got back to what was successful for us at the start of the match in playing our quick ball,” said ASU coach Alex Houser. “We did a really good job throughout the day of counter attacking whenever we forced turnovers. That was an area we were able to be successful.”

The Red Wolves spun the ball wide off of their turnovers, catching Davenport in transition from offense to defense.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been working on in training and it’s a standard rugby rule – two passes away from a turnover and then attack, so the guys have been doing a good job of it recently and particularly in this match,” continued Houser

The tactic is especially potent when you have a backline like Arkansas State’s. From inside center to fullback, any of the ASU backs are capable of scoring from 80-meters out. That was evidenced by the fact that six of the Red Wolves’ eight tries came from four backs Saturday.

“That’s why you try not to be too structured with the guys and have set assignments and things like that," said Houser. "Just give them more of a framework to work within and be able to express themselves and use their kind of natural talent. It’s a good advantage to have.”

Arkansas State is now 3-0 in Mid-South play, with one game left – at Life April 13th. The worst ASU can finish is second in the league, which would have them face the Allied Rugby Conference champion to play into the DI-A quarterfinals.

Arkansas State 60‰лЌ
Tries: Elan-Puttick (2), Bates, Gericke, Haussrer (2), Higgins, Kirk‰лЌ
Cons: Sullivan (7)‰лЌ
Pens: Sullivan (2)

Davenport 27‰лЌ
Tries: Ray, MacLellan (2)‰лЌ
Cons: Gent (2), Eloff ‰лЌ
Pens: Eloff (2)