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Friday, November 20, 2015

ACRC Preview: St. Bonaventure vs. Western Michigan

By Ryan Trost

The first match of Saturday morning gives us a nice view of two up and coming programs. D1-AA, Western Michigan travels out of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) with a 7 – 2 record. Their opponents, St. Bonaventure are emerging from the Rugby East D1-A cauldron at 3 - 5. Being a part of two significantly different divisions though, it does neither team justice to compare them by records alone. Both have taken their lumps against solid competition and both have also experienced the triumph reaching and setting new standards for themselves going forward.

The Bonnies, under Coach Clarence Picard started the year rough, but they did so by design. “You really find out who you are when you take on Penn State, followed by Army, followed by Iona, followed by Kutztown, followed by Wheeling Jesuit,” said Picard. Since that Oct. 10th match against Wheeling, which dropped them to 0 – 5, the Bonnies haven’t lost again and have scored six tries in each of their last three. In the same way muscles are made stronger by being torn, in order to grow stronger, this scheduling theory appears to work well in building character and skills in young men too.

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Picard understood the risks of taking on that intense first month and a half of the season and he admits it was tough on his younger players. The team’s core group of leaders and the coaches did a great job though of focusing on positives and reminded them often of the other side of the mountain they would finally face later in the year. “It was a tale of two seasons, and we knew it would be,” he said. “We said, ‘Hey, end of year we have three winnable games and finish in Carolina, in a bowl, web-streamed for friends and family. Now that’s the reality and the guys are really excited to take on WMU.”

That Western Michigan team should prove to be a very good final test for the Bonnies too. The Broncos had a very strong regular season with its two losses book-ending the entire fall. In a preconference-season match, the WMU also took it upon themselves to be tested early. Davenport U. came away from that early September match with a 39-7 victory over Mark Allen’s team. After that loss, the fellas in Black and Gold got themselves down to their blue-collar business and rolled through their conference schedule on six straight wins. In the middle of that schedule, they overcame their longtime conference rival, Bowling Green for the first time in the program’s history.

“We felt good about that, but it’s not just about competing anymore,” said Coach Allen. “It’s not even just about beating them. It’s about moving the program forward.” Allen is a no nonsense coach, and the team following his lead is a matter of fact sort of force. They make no excuses and they play fast, aggressive rugby. Sometimes that speed is unexpected from a team located way out in the northern great lakes region. Their surprising 7’s program has become a valuable developmental tool for their 15’s program.

Most of the Broncos, including the forward pack are solidly built mobile players who get around the entire park. They stay fit practicing in doors as the winter cold starts to bite. Those tight indoor spaces, and the narrower dimensions of their football field-cum-rugby pitch forces them to play a power game, even while driving for a running style of rugby.

What you end up with is a lot of back row activity and some powerful channel rugby. One of those 7’s studs that Allen is fielding is Fly-Half and Captain, Tommy Kacor. A #8 for Allen in earlier seasons, he is a surprisingly massive site at Fly-Half. Kacor plays summer 7s with the Chicago Lions, and has shown adept playmaking ability throughout his tenure at WMU. He and his teammates’ skills at moving the ball around in tight spaces has Picard and the Bonnies planning for a tightly contested gain line battle.

“We will have to fire off the line and make them have to make tough decisions; don’t give them time to move it.” One of Picard’s special players to watch in this game of match-ups will be his #12, Jordan Farrant (Sr.). “He’s been one of our real keys, on D especially,” said Picard. “He is real strong on that inside channel and able to step in as first receiver when our #10 is unavailable.”

The ACRC organizers have done a good job of setting up the matches in the event this year. This one finds a number of interesting similarities as well. Both teams have had growth success, and both are clear about their intentions of moving up and playing the best competition they can, to grow the game and its presentation in America. They are both hard working, defensively solid teams and both have been tested at various points in their seasons. Both are from the northern great lakes region as well, which is an interesting tidbit, as they have similarly LONG drives to get to North Carolina the day before their match.

Hopefully both will have the right attitudes and ample time to stretch their legs before Saturday so they can put their best on display. When it comes down to who should win, and the proverbial “who wants it more”, both have the feel of a team with something still to prove on their season.

Picard and the Bonnies want to prove that their jump to Division 1-A has made them substantially better, and they want to represent Rugby East well as one of the strongest conferences in the nation. Allen’s Western Michigan team will want to prove that their conference title game loss to Bowling Green isn’t a return to normalcy. On the year, WMU has beaten the teams it should beat, and been beaten by teams that were expected to beat them. That one win against BGSU appears to have been a harbinger of their true change. Proving that though, against a St. Bonaventure team that specifically jumped a division above two seasons ago would put an emphatic punctuation on Western Michigan’s growing presence in the American landscape.

For the Bonnies, it is the same. They have shown an ability to beat other D1-A minnows and one D1-AA rising power at Notre Dame College. What does that really mean if they lose to the Broncos though? Are they in that class above with the other Rugby East power teams? Is 2016 their year? This is their chance to find out exactly where they stand.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan,
    Great write up. Thank you. I'm just settling back into my routine after the Bowl Series and enjoy catching up. Thanks for the great PR. The match was epic as you predicted.