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In a preview of the Huckaby Cup in the spring, Life trekked to Jonesboro, Ark. and beat Arkansas State, 34-10. Intense offense and stout defense highlighted that match as the Running Eagles starved the Red Wolves of possession for most of the first half scoring three tries in the process. In the second half, the Life defense shut out Arkansas State while extending the lead to 24 points at the end of the match.
In the highly competitive contest, Life head coach Scott Lawrence was proud of his club. “The game was certainly tight. Both teams were putting together double-digit phase play, defending well, and building good continuity. That was a positive for us. We have been limiting our kicking this fall to build more ball in hand skills and in this game, we were able to build some pressure that way with more ball in hand.”
The Red Wolves came out hungry and scored the game’s first points with a Dylan Boast penalty. Life’s ball control offense took over from that point.
“In the first five minutes of the game, we had possession of the ball and came away with points,” Arkansas State head coach Shaun Potgieter said. “After that, in the first half especially, we just defended, defended, defended for about 35 minutes. That wore us out and that’s why they ended up scoring those three tries towards the end of the first half.”
Life began with a Duncan Van Schalkyk penalty to tie the game, then scored three straight tries. Marcus Walsh snuck into the endzone off a broken play, Maciu Koroi deployed a eightman pick from the back of a scrum, and Matt Harmon was the benefactor of some impressive phase play for the 22-3 advantage.
The Red Wolves answered at the end of the half as the offense built some momentum with phase play to get inside the 22. Tabo Maree took a forward pod at the goal line and stretched over for the score. At halftime, Life led 22-10.
Both teams battled for most of the second half keeping each other out of the endzone. With 13 minutes to go, Life finally broke through as Van Schalkwyk switched from #10 to scrumhalf and scored a meter out after a dummying the defender. Wing Harley Wheeler put the finishing touch on the match for Life in the 78th minute breaking through the defensive line for a 20-meter try.
Potgieter noted that Arkansas State was more disciplined and patient with the ball in the second half, but it made too many errors on attack. “[Life] didn’t really capitalize off of our errors, but they controlled the ball well and played their gameplan of bashing it up. They got some penalties, put us down in our territory, played their bashing rugby, and ended up scoring. Overall, I’m proud of the guys. They laid it out there.”
Lawerence indicated that the key to victory was getting the Running Eagles’ defensive spacing right. “Arkansas State plays with tremendous width, so we were able to shut them down in the corners. When you are able to do that, you can tilt the field with territory and generate turnovers.”
Life’s impact players were Duncan Van Schalkyk and Harley Wheeler. “Duncan was a bit more composed under pressure this week and Harley had a good day on the wing,” Lawrence stated. “Arkansas State really pushed the ball into the touch line and he made some really solid one-on-one tackles this week.”
The Running Eagles have used the fall to establish their depth chart for the ultra-competitive Mid-South Conference schedule in the spring. The matches against Charlotte and Stars Rugby next week will further help the coaching staff develop its starting 23. For Arkansas State, Potgieter said that the main takeaway from the fall is capitalizing off line breaks, sticking to the gameplan, and limiting errors and turnovers.
The first game of the spring for Life will be the rematch with Arkansas State for the Huckaby Cup on February 18th. Both squads will be ready for the next round in 2017.