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Friday, October 28, 2016

Rugby East Drop: Kutztown visits West Point

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

Currently one league point behind Penn State and facing Kutztown in their final conference match, the options are clear at West Point. Win with a bonus and hope Penn State drops both of their last two.

A bonus win against KU this week would bring Army to 34 total league points, which only ties PSU at best, if the Nittany Lions win either one of their remaining games. Their head to head loss in week five would then kick in as the first tie break, eliminating Army from the title.

That title, while still mathematically within reach and therefore still a motivation, is not however the primary objective at West Point. Head Coach Matt Sherman has repeated often throughout the year, his desire is for the team to get better every week, as individuals and - even more so - as a unit.

“We’re solely focused on this match. Regardless of what the final standings are, we want to end strong and beat a good Kutztown team,” he said on Friday morning.

Take the jump to read more.

On paper this looks like a year in which Army can take the Golden Bears. The fact that KU defeated Army last fall is not lost on any of the Black Knights. These two teams have traded the title crown in each of the last three seasons, making the rivalry a special one in the conference.

Kutztown, currently fourth in Rugby East, with one loss to Wheeling has had a number of questions asked over the past few weeks. They’ve had a number of freshman athletes make their Division 1 debuts this year and as such have maybe not looked quite as intimidating as in past years.

The KU Rugby mastermind, Doc Jones points out however, “Offensively we’ve been the best team in the conference, so obviously they’re responding very well.”

That attack pattern, which Jones installed only this year, makes for a tasty matchup with Army’s conference leading defensive system. The real question, from Jones’ perspective is how the team responds defensively.

“That’s an area where we haven’t been as good as we’re usually known to be,” he said. Every team needs adjustment at times though and for KU, Jones and Larry Chester appear to have pinpointed the issue they’ve seen. “It’s not that they aren’t tackling or anything like that, we just don’t think they’re reorganizing quickly enough,” said Jones.

“It’s going to be a close game,” said Jones. “I think we can compete with them.” Of course, Jones is right about that. To what degree, some may suspect. Army is ranked 7th overall by D1A voters and KU has slipped to #13. As we all know, ranking teams is no simple task and each game produces its own variances.

This week, KU is going to be bolstered by the returns of Inside Center Joe O’Shields and 2015/16 All-American Kina Malafu at Wing. Lock, Evan Anderson is also back for the second week after missing some games with a concussion.

With this group of upperclassmen back on the field, Jones will be able to use his hot young flyers D’Montae Noble and Aaron Gray off the bench. These two are very fun to watch and have provided boosts to the system when called upon throughout the year.

Army has a number of sparkplug options in their 22 man roster as well, with guys like Raaqim Rispress and Nate Williams being interchangeable at a number of spots in their particular units. Sherman’s job of choosing the right starting xv is always an interesting equation for him to solve.

No matter what exact lineup he does decide on Saturday, there will be a ton of great individual and unit match-ups to watch. Second year rugby sensation Jon Kim vs. Freshman wiz Jackson Clark at Fly-half for instance…

Ever the pragmatist, Sherman tempers the individual keys to the game questions with his succinct and usual focus. “It’s hard to read too much into offense v defense, or individual match-ups,” he said. “Every game has its own battles. All we know for sure is, what we’re looking at is a highly contested match, one way or another.”

And once again, all that’s left is to leave it on the field.

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