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Pool F of the Penn Mutual College Rugby Championships looks to be one of the more competitive groups with former CRC champs, Dartmouth and Utah, joining Clemson and Temple at Talon Energy Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
Earning its entry after winning the Las Vegas Invitational, Utah won the inaugural CRC in 2010 and placed third in 2011. This year’s competition breaks a four-year hiatus for the Utes and they are eager to shine once more in their return.
At the LVI in March, Utah outlasted all comers beating AIC in the semifinals and in the Cup Final, shocked Notre Dame College by coming from behind to win, 12-10. The key to the victory that weekend was Utah’s scrappy defense and team effort.
Ever since winning the tournament, the Utes have focused on preparing for the CRC. Coach Nu'u Punimata, a former All-Army and Eagle player, has been putting the squad through its paces to get ready. Head coach Mark Drown praised Punimata’s contribution by saying, "Nu'u brings to the program recent experience from the OTC and the World Circuit, which is a huge asset to have at our disposal."
The strength of Utah’s side comes from the senior leadership on the team. Coach Drown will rely on workhorse Taylor Thomas, physical Benji Mills, rangy Jacob Morrison, and speed demon Casey Raymond to bring home another title to Salt Lake City. "We are not a flashy side which can rely on a few game-changing type players. We are a solid balanced team and we must rely on each other to keep our defensive shape and exploit opportunities at the turn over,” Drown added.
With the addition of a sixth pool in this year’s tournament, Drown commented that, "the big challenge Utah faces is we are not a high scoring seven’s side. With six pools in the CRC, Utah must take our pool to ensure we get through. If we place second, we are at the mercy of the point differentials and that would not be a good position to be in based on our past sevens scoring results.”
2016 marks the second year of competition for Clemson after placing 19th in last year’s foray. The Tigers are not going wow the opposition with blazing speed, but do excel in the fundamentals of crisp passing, hard running, and solid defense. Clemson will focus on possession and ball retention and scoring off turnovers from its stout defense.
According to head coach Steve Lynch, the high impact player on the squad is Dylan Goulding. “He is a really hard runner and exceptional tackler. Very physical at the breakdown and will be counted on to create opportunities in the line breaks.” Doing the dirty work is Drew Dommel and Joel Jaldin. “Dommel at wing is a workhorse. He gets to every breakdown and punches above his weight. Jaldin in the forwards has a nose for the ball and gets himself into great position in the tackle.”
Lynch believes there are no easy wins in Pool F and each team is solid across the board. In order to advance, Lynch said that the Tigers will have to “starve the other teams of possession, create great turnover opportunities for ourselves, and capitalize on those opportunities turning them into points.”
The Big Green of Dartmouth will look to improve on their 9th place finish from last year and rebound to the heights of the 2010 and 2011 tournaments where they won it all. Dartmouth has the pedigree of a champion and head coach Gavin Hickie knows how to bring out the best in his players. The Big Green has never finished out of the top ten at the CRCs and doesn’t expect to this year.
For the home team Owls, Temple has been a constant participant since 2011 when the tournament was moved to Philadelphia. The highest the Owls have placed is 15th and in 2015, they ended up 17th. Temple will depend on the senior experience of Peter Mullville and Anthony Sciarra to power through the opposition of the group. As the underdog of Pool F, the Owls hope to take their foes by surprise and show the home crowd some fireworks to cheer for.