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Minnesota finally beat Wisconsin last season to emerge from Midwest West play and reach the Sweet 16. Problem is, once they got there they ran into the buzzsaw known as Davenport and lost 27-0.

The Gophers have lost four starters since the spring semester, and the biggest blow came in the front row. Starting tighthead Garrett O’Connor graduated and his heir to the No. 3 jersey transferred to Nebraska. Luckily, However, high school All American prop Peyton Lauber will be in Minneapolis.

“I think that’s the hardest thing to find in college is a good front row,” said Minnesota coach Loren Lemke. “You can find the rest of them or create them, but I don’t think you can create props. They’re born.”

Another newcomer who could make an impact early is Jack Butterfield.

“He is either going to be a flyhalf or scrumhalf,” said Lemke. “He played on our 7s side and had a great summer, so we’re just looking forward to putting stuff together and see if we can get a run here.”

Paramount to any run the Gophers make will be scrumhalf Nate Augspurger. He has darting speed and big-play ability. His elder brother Sam has graduated, but one Augspurger is better than none.

If the Gophers can avoid injuries up front, Lemke thinks they have a chance to return to the postseason.

"My own personal feeling is, from just watching practice, is they’re not really fearful of anybody," he said. 

"College rugby you don’t know from week to week. That’s what scares me. I know we’re going to be fairly solid in our top 20, but if we lose a couple pack players we’re going to be hurting because we’re going to be counting on a couple inexperienced players to step up."