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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rugby East Drop On: The Season's Opener In Kutztown



by Ryan J. Trost
This is American Rugby – Rugby East


Scores are in from week two in Rugby East and the favorites in all three matches were indeed the better teams. Wheeling and Iona especially answered any detractors with resounding wins over opponents who were thought to be closing the gap. Both teams were on the outside of D1A’s Top-20 heading into week 2 and both made strong cases for inclusion this week.

Army, now ranked #7 in the nation, put another hurting on West Virginia who is having a rough start with a lot of learning opportunities for young players. The Black Knights have the early pole position in the conference as the first two-win team. Their point differential is still one point less than Penn State, who has only played only once so far (beating WVU 76-0). It was not necessarily Matt Sherman’s intention to run up the score on West Virginia though, as he wanted to test out some new player combinations before cresting into the peak of their season.

With all nine teams in action this week, the conference season is now in full flight, so there is plenty to keep track of.

Take the jump to read more.


Rugby East Drop On The Season’s Opener in Kutztown

West Virginia’s difficult start doesn’t figure to get any easier quite yet. This week they are tasked with facing the defending conference champion’s opening round game. While still licking their wounds a bit from two heavy defeats to Penn State and Army, WVU is now almost through the most difficult part of its year. The young Mountaineers have been put to the fire early this year. Hopefully the lessons they are learning can take root somewhat quickly.

They will want to show that improvement in the second half of their season, against some of their classic rivals.

Kutztown has strangely had no opportunities to test themselves in non-conference friendlies this preseason. Head coach, Doc Jones is planning to start a very young group of Golden Bears in their season opener. If there is some rust or growing pains for KU to deal with, it could be West Virginia’s best chance to keep pace, at least in the early going. Jones concurs, “Playing a real game is always much different than getting after each other in scrimmage.”

The last time we checked in on KU, they had only just begun their two a day regimen. Jones hinted at the time that his freshman class could be very capable starters right off the bat The season opener provides a great opportunity for him to test that theory.

His starting lineup this week will include an all-freshman halfback duo of Jake Estes at Scrum-half and Jackson Clark at Fly.  Estes is yet another product of the Maryland Exiles club, which has alumni scattered throughout D1A and Rugby East. Clark is a product of Greenville, South Carolina and also has more experience under his belt than one might initially expect from incoming freshman.

One question mark Jones pointed to in preseason interviews was an inexact status of his back row combinations. For their first run of the year, KU will go with the youth movement here as well. The flankers this weekend will be Joe Thatcher (Fr) and Sam Devine (So). Angel Santiago (So) will slot in at No. 8. All three are over 6’0 - 220 lbs. and according to Jones, all three are excellent on the move.

With that much youth in the pivot area, Jones looks to be shaking things up a little bit. He still has great experience in the tight five and back three, plus Centers. It will be interesting to see how it works though. It is a somewhat unorthodox approach to load the important inside channels with youth. “We have a couple of wrinkles that we changed from last year. Different personnel allow us do some things they might not expect from our usual,” said Jones.

With that very interesting mix, it should be a fun one to watch. The Golden Bears will want to get the system clicking relatively fast. On the heels of this one they will receive a visit from the Iona Gaels, who are already well oiled in this early 2016 fall season.

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