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Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference supremacy is on the line Saturday in Montgomery, Ala., as 3-0 South Carolina meets 2-0 LSU for a neutral site clash.
The Gamecocks lead the East Division with wins over Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia, and the Tigers lead the West Division having beaten Auburn and Alabama.
When these teams met last season, LSU won 28-8.
“Last year, the first 10 minutes they were pretty good. They were flowing pretty well and they actually scored first. What we thought was they were a pretty dominant force,” said LSU captain Allen Alongi of the Gamecocks.
“They beat Kentucky the week before [104-3] so we had to think they were a pretty decent team, so we just came in there with defense as our priority, and that was just the be-all, end-all of the game for us. We just buckled down and started putting them under pressure. I remember them knocking a bunch during that game.”
LSU has the same game plan this year – suffocate South Carolina with defensive pressure.
“The only thing that we wanted to make sure going into the matrix of the SCRC was to make sure that we had the best defense in the league,” said Alongi.
“We kind of look down at the end of the game and we’re more happy with the amount of tries that we didn’t allow versus the tries we scored. That’s a team mindset, not just mine. We like hitting people.”
From South Carolina’s perspective, LSU is beatable, but not easily.
“They’re always a tough team. They’ve got a good flyhalf and a couple fast, good wings,” said South Carolina coach Mark Morris. “They’re going to be very similar to us this year – I think we’re both playing fast-paced rugby and it’s going to come down to who wants it more.”
The Gamecocks have started reaping the benefits of more freshmen coming to Columbia, SC with prior rugby experience, and the welcome influx has heightened the competition for starting spots.
Freshman Mike Mahon out of Fordham Prep in New York was one of the team's MVPs from the fall, and fellow freshman Brian Keown from St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia is contributing, too. So are four freshmen from defending Pennsylvania State Champion Downingtown.
“Every practice for us is a competition of who is going to start for our A-side. The kids have all bought into it and worked on the conditioning this year and know that everybody has a chance to start every game. I’m starting anywhere from six to seven freshmen every game,” said Morris.
“That’s been a great help to my program…I’ve got kids that have played four or five years coming in from high school or middle school.”
The Tigers have some youth on their team, too, but are lead by upperclassmen Alongi, Paul Rogers and Will Middleton. Saturday, those guys will try to slow the ascendance of the young Gamecocks in the SCRC hierarchy.