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St. Bonaventure opens its season with a home friendly against Wheeling Jesuit Saturday. The game is a rematch of a 22-19 Bonnies win from the spring. It’s also a clash of the Empire and Rugby East conferences.

“We’re really excited. Obviously, going against not only a varsity team, but they’re also in Rugby East now, which is exciting and a nice challenge for us,” said St. Bonaventure coach Clarence Picard.

“The spring match was a good, physical match. It really got us prepared that way, but both teams were kind of pressing and a little sloppy, so we’re hoping we can clean it up this time around.”

While this game is the Bonnies’ first of the season, which is reason to be concerned about rust, the team returns all but four starters from last year’s conference championship squad.

“We have the majority of our team back, so I guess we’re lucky in that regard,” said Picard. “We do have a lot of guys who have gone through the tough league season and gone through the playoffs, so we feel like not only are we getting good leadership out of our captains, we’re getting a lot of good leadership out of our seniors and upperclassmen.”

Wheeling Jesuit, on the other hand, is coming off of a heartbreaker against Michigan. The Cardinals lost 30-28 on a last minute try. Also in contrast to St. Bonaventure, Wheeling Jesuit is relying on a much younger team. There are only two seniors listed on Wheeling’s roster, and many play makers, like flyhalf Joji Vakasisikakala, are freshmen or sophomores.

For both Wheeling and St. Bonaventure, Saturday is about preparation for the league season. The Bonnies start their Empire campaign next week, and the Empire is expected to be as competitive as any conference in the country.

Wheeling is taking a big step up in joining the Rugby East, and tough games against Michigan, St. Bonaventure, Buffalo and Lindenwood should have the Cardinals battle tested before the Sept. 28 conference opener against Delaware.