Friday, April 28, 2017

DI-A Semi-finals Preview: Big Clashes On Tap

Photo: Connie Hatfield

The DI-A finals match-up will be set after this weekend's semi-finals. In one semi-final you have a mammoth clash between BYU and Life and in the other you have Arizona trying to pull off a major upset against St. Mary's.

BYU vs. Life

It would not be a stretch to call this the game of the year so far in college rugby. Both Life and BYU are legitimate title contenders and have been in either the Varisty Cup or DI-A finals for most of the decade. Since 2013 they have a combined six titles. Now one of them is going to miss out but it's a legitimate toss-up as to who is going to go home early.

Each team has taken a different path to get to this point. BYU, like they do nearly every year, has had a schedule mixed with local college teams, club teams like the Glendale Raptors, and home and away series with very tough teams like St. Mary's and Central Washington. Outside of a loss to St. Mary's on the road and a couple of losses to the Raptors there has been little that has gone wrong for BYU this year. They have pulled out blowout win after another and have only gained strength as the season has gone along.

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Much of their surge has to do with the warming weather in Utah but also the play of their veterans. Any roster with the likes of capped Eagles Calvin Whiting and Matt Jensen, along with Alex Vorster, Kevin Schofield, the Whippy brothers, and Tua Laei is going to be very, very difficult to beat. Those players have years of experience playing high-level rugby and have had to deal with high pressure situations.

That said, BYU couldn't hold on against Cal last year in the Varsity Cup championship match and they are going to have to travel across the country to take on a tough team. BYU hasn't had to travel much outside of the West Coast in recent years and now they'll have to recover from a trip to Indiana last week and a trip to Atlanta this week. In what is expected to be a close match the travel fatigue factor could be big.

Life's season has mainly been against Mid-South opponents. The weather saw them off to a slow start at the beginning of the calendar year but as their conference season has progressed they have only improved. They really showed how strong they are with their win over Lindenwood last week. Now at home and with the weather warm they are poised to try and defend their title.

Like BYU, Life's roster is littered with players with big game experience. Harley Davidson was a key part of their title run last year. Alex Maughan has been capped.  Sam Cowley, Maciu Koroi, Cody Melphy, and the Van Schalkwyk brothers are all extremely good players and difference makers. There are going to be some very good head to head match-ups in this one.

What's going to be the difference? Both teams can score and both teams can defend. We think that the difference will come early on. If BYU can jump out to a couple of try lead early like they have done all year we think they'll go on to win. If the Life defense holds firm and they go up early then it's their game.

St. Mary's vs. Arizona

This one should be fairly straightforward. St. Mary's are heavy favorites and Arizona is going to need something very special to beat them. It was though the Gaels might be given a challenge last week against San Diego State but they turned that one into a big win. It seems that St. Mary's trip to Ireland and Scotland has only boosted them. That should be a scary though to either BYU or Life.

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