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Oklahoma and Texas renew the Red River Rivalry Saturday in Austin, but this time the contest is for more than bragging rights. The Sooners and Longhorns usually meet in the fall on the same weekend as the football rivalry game in Dallas, but this spring, Oklahoma and Texas are Allied Rugby Conference foes.
The Sooners enter the contest as favorites, having beaten the Longhorns a lot more than they’ve lost to them over the years. In the fall, with both teams not playing their full a-sides in the middle of 7s season, Oklahoma delivered a lopsided beatdown of Texas.
The Sooners are also fresh off their impressive league-opening win over Baylor, 85-7. For the Longhorns, this is the a-side’s first true test this competitive cycle. The Longhorns put a developmental team in the Southwest Conference, so the depth of the team has gotten reps, but Texas’ top backs were playing 7s as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Against Baylor, center Michael Al-Jiboori ran in five tries and wing Brad Henry dotted down four. Al-Jiboori is a big, fast, strong runner who is a load for anyone in college rugby to bring down, and Henry has the pace out wide to capitalize on the attention Al-Jiboori garners.
“Their strength is at their centers – very talented, very big strong runners, very tough to tackle and they can offload nicely,” said Texas coach Butch Neuenschwander of Oklahoma.
“That’s what we saw last October, and that’s what I saw in the game report from last week, so the key to us is going to be defense. If we can step up on defense and find a way to shut down that powerful running attack in the backline then we have a pretty good chance.”
Texas has some potency in its backline, too. A new Australian student commands the deep three at fullback, 7s captain Skylar Talley is in the centers and the talented Taylor Hayes will be at wing.
The Longhorns have taken a hit in the forwards, though, with prop Danny Camara going down with a broken foot recently, and front-row mate Fernando Assing is just coming off of an injury. But Neuenschwander likes one of his new pack members, Logan Canter, and is looking forward to watching him play Oklahoma.
“Logan is a big, tall athlete. He can play lock, he can play eight and he can probably even play some flanker, so I’m looking for him to make some impact,” said Neuenschwander. “The Sooners have not seen this guy.”
Saturday will be Neuenschwander’s last Red River Rivalry game as the head coach of Texas, as he is stepping down in March. Neuenschwander was raised in Oklahoma as a Sooner fan, so the importance of this rivalry isn't lost on him.
“It would be nice the last time I face OU to hang a W up there,” he said. “I know our boys want it real bad, especially our seniors. I’ve been having them talk at the end of practice about what this match means to them.”