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Four mouthwatering quarterfinals await day two of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. The chalk held most of Saturday, until the end when Indiana blitzed Kutztown, but that result just made the knockout matches even more palatable.
The one-eight match-up, which is theoretically supposed to be the most lopsided, features Cal and Kutztown. The battle of the Golden Bears was played out in the CRC final in 2014 and 2015. Cal won both by single digits. These teams are different, but Cal vs. Kutztown is still Cal vs. Kutztown.
There are similarly situated veterans on both teams, though freshmen also feature prominently for both, too. For KU, Vetekina Malafu is the playmaker. He’ll be mirrored by Cal’s Russell Webb. For Cal, Anthony Salaber is a tall, physical, athletic specimen, and he’s mirrored by Alex Faison-Donahoe. Cal’s Sam Cusano is a notable freshman, as is the powerfully shifty Dmontae Noble for KU.
In years past, they’ve played different styles – Cal being more conventional and Kutztown favoring a bit more physicality. But this year both play to space with an eye toward cutting back on an overzealous defender.
On the same side of the bracket are Indiana, which earned the fourth seed by jumping out to a massive lead over Kutztown and holding on in the pool decider, and UCLA. The Bruins won their pool, going 2-0-1. The lone blemish was a draw with a very game AIC side that also tied Virginia Tech.
These two teams are also similar in makeup – they have a stable of very handy, skilled, pretty athletic rugby players, but neither has a gamebreaker. Whichever team holds onto more possession and makes fewer mistakes will advance to face the Golden Bears, either of Kutztown or Cal.
The second seed goes to St. Mary’s. The Gaels managed to sweep their pool, but they looked beatable in doing so. They opened the day with a surprisingly close game against Boston College, edging the Eagles by just seven. They improved in a lopsided win over Temple, and the Dartmouth match was close through halftime before St. Mary’s finally put the Big Green to the sword.
Life had a similar day, playing Notre Dame and Wisconsin fairly closely before tying Arkansas State. Both the Running Eagles and Gaels, which met just a couple of weeks back in the D1A final, looked tired at times. They haven’t had the chance to fully recover from a long 15s campaign. St. Mary’s won in 15s, but Life seems to have a deeper stable of dependable legs and may be the favorite in this quarterfinal.
Arkansas State and Lindenwood are old rivals, and they’re going to renew it in the knockouts. The Red Wolves have won two USA Rugby championships, in 2012 and 2013, and Lindenwood has won two, in 2015 and 2017. So both programs are very good. The difference may be how their Saturdays went – LU won fairly comfortably each time out, while Arkansas State had to claw to draw Life.
These teams, in addition to swapping USA Rugby 7s titles, have swapped players. Lions captain Michael Baska transferred to Lindenwood from Arkansas State, and Sione Fangaiuiha transferred from LU to A-State. Baska will play in the quarterfinals, while Fangaiuiha is out for the tournament with a red card he collected against Life – he was shown two separate yellows, one for an intentional knock-on and one for a dangerous tackle.
This will be a heated one, but the Lions seem fresher and deeper.