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The Cup Quarterfinals of the Penn Mutual CRC are set after a grueling day of pool play. UCLA took the spot with a +88 point differential, beating Cal by three points. Arizona, Kutztown, Dartmouth and Life all won their groups and finished 3rd through 6th, respectively. Arkansas State and Penn State nabbed the final two spots setting up an incredibly tough final eight.
1) UCLA VS 8) Penn State
UCLA was firing on all cylinders today after having a disappointing finish in pool play last year. The Bruins played a highflying brand of rugby, scoring a bevy of points. Niall Barry and Race Noelder dotted down three times each to lead the way.
Pool E, though, was one of the weakest in the tournament. UCLA spent most of day one on offense. Penn State will look to challenge the Bruins at the breakdown and slow down their high-powered offense. Although Penn State went 2-1 on day one, the Nittany Lions gave up the most points of any cup team.
The reason Penn State advanced is a fairly powerful offense. Should Penn State slow down UCLA and retain possession, it has a few playmakers at is disposal. Ryan McNulty scored four tries today and Michael Dabulas added several more to pace the team. The Nittany Lions also had four other players enter the try zone making them a fairly balanced attack.
If UCLA forwards Pierre Courpron and Zach Bonte continue to stay true to form, allowing the Bruins to recycle the ball quickly, UCLA could run up the points. The question is can Penn State stay with them. It is possible, but Penn State may be better suited to slow the game down.
2) Cal VS 7) Arkansas State
This is the most intriguing match of the quarterfinals. Both teams displayed rugby Saturday that showed they are two of the top teams, if not the top two. Both overwhelmed the other two schools in the group leading to a showdown for the top spot.
Cal took advantage of some early sloppiness on the restarts. With several players well over six feet, including Anthony Salabar and James Kondrat, the Bears have the ability to compete on every kickoff. Despite this, they kicked deep a number of times, pinning a potent ASU offense deep in its own end. Cal upped its level of physicality and the Red Wolves struggled to match early. Cal forced several turnovers early in the game and capitalized with three scores. Cal may try to replicate that success or shift to shorter kickoffs and let its big boys go get them. Whether they want to win with defensive pressure or possession will dictate the strategy
The second half was much more in Arkansas State’s favor and may lead Cal to do the latter. The Red Wolves adjusted to the physicality, bringing on a number of key subs. The Red Wolves brought on Kirk Pretorius, their 15-a-side number eight, and he had a big impact. The South African adds a level of physicality and skill at the breakdown that some of his smaller counterparts lack. Look for him to start tomorrow.
For ASU to knock off the three-time defending champions, it is going to need some creativity on offense. Cal is extremely disciplined on defense, leaving opponents with very few channels to exploit. The Red Wolves will need another big game from Zinzan Elan-Puttick and a big performance from freshman winger Zac Young. Young has been relatively quiet this weekend, but his ability to change a game with his speed and size cannot be over looked.
This should be a very tight match, with it in all likelihood ending with only a score between them.
3) Arizona VS 6) Life
Although Life’s trip to the quarterfinals was not as easy as it would have hoped, the Running Eagles have all the talent to reach the Cup Final. Cody Melphy and Harley Davidson are the scoring threats for Life as it will try to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers using its experience and physical presence to batter the fledgling Wildcats.
In only giving up two converted tries all afternoon, Life has the ability to play a wide open game or physically dominate its opponent. Look for Life to do the latter against a smaller Arizona team.
Arizona stands in Life’s way and the young from Tucson turned some heads while emerging from Pool D. After finishing third in last year’s competition, expectations were high, but with five freshmen on the roster, it wasn’t clear if Arizona could repeat.
One of those freshmen, Tyler Sousley, who netted five tries on the afternoon, including a hat trick against Navy, has the ability to take over the game. Along with Shane Dempsey and Ben Joseph, the Wildcats can put up points in bunches.
What makes Arizona a tough out, however, is a stout defense and an incredibly fit team. The Wildcats outran the two Military Academies and pulled away from St. Joe’s late to win the group. In the process, they only yielded five points.
This game is unique in that it could be either a defensive slugfest or a track meet. Both teams are versatile. Life overcame an early scare against Virginia Tech to win its pool and will come ready to play, while Arizona tested its mettle in an incredibly tough group.
Compiled by Brett Anker, Evan Lappen, and Pat Clifton.