After months of conference play, tours, and tournaments, the first round of the Varsity Cup is finally upon us. All of the participating schools have been playing a tremendous amount of rugby, gearing up to be crowned the next Varsity Cup champions. With the first round of play commencing this weekend, here is a first look at the four opening round matchups.
Clemson V Dartmouth
Rugbymag’s 16th ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Hanover, New Hampshire to take on the Ivy champions and 22nd ranked Dartmouth. Dartmouth recently defeated Harvard 52-3 to take its fifth consecutive Ivy League Title.
Dartmouth’s recent wins over Penn and Harvard are bounce back games after a rocky tour. Traveling to the West Coast, the Big Green fell to fellow Varsity cup participants Cal, 99-7 and Cal Poly. With several players returning from other commitments, the side is much stronger coming into this weekend.
Returning, most notably, is USA Sevens player Madison Hughes. Hughes missed the west coast tour while participating in the HSBC World Series for the Eagles.
Hughes and senior leadership pace the Big Green. Kevin Clark is an explosive wing with the ability to break tackles, while scrumhalf John Descalzi quarterbacks a potent Dartmouth attack. Forwards Dylan Jones and Neil Greene really stepped up in a solid effort over Harvard.
After going undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Rugby League play, the tigers ultimately fell in the ACRC quarter-finals to a now suspended Penn State squad. Hoping to prepare itself for a rigorous competition, Clemson scheduled Life University, Davenport, Wheeling Jesuit University and DII final four James Madison as opponents this spring.
The first two games of the spring were rocky for the Tigers as they fell to Life University 45-24 and to Davenport 46-0. Clemson bounced back, however, winning its two most recent contests.
In its final two matchups before the Varsity Cup, Clemson defeated Wheeling Jesuit 42-14 and James Madison 33-20. The Tigers hope to carry the momentum into this weekend.
The winner will take on BYU in the quarter finals.
Texas V Notre Dame
Notre Dame is coming off a series of losses. The Fighting Irish lost to Western Michigan 29-17 and followed it up with a loss to Arizona in the Parseghian Research Foundation game.
Nevertheless, Notre Dame possesses a very skilled and disciplined squad. Very Strong defensively, Notre Dame will certainly challenge Texas to get over the gain line.
Sporting a brand new complex, the game is sure to generate a large crowd.
Texas faces an uphill battle as one of the newcomers to the Varsity Cup. Although the Longhorns won the Southwestern conference title they have recently faced some stiff competition. Losing 38-0 to fellow Varsity Cup competitor Oklahoma, and tough losses to Wisconsin and Army have prepared the Longhorns for a battle with Notre Dame.
The Longhorns live and die by the mantra “dedication, commitment, discipline,” head coach Chris Hopps told United World Sports. Preparing for the game, Texas has taken a mental and physical approach with the emphasis on commitment.
Leading the charge for the Longhorns is freshman flyalf Carson Youman. He will need to make crisp passes and have good decision making skills if Texas is going to break down a disciplined Notre Dame defense.
Texas needs big games from senior tight head prop Danny Camara and Captain Peter Hyams in order to move on in the competition.
The winner will battle Navy in the quarterfinals
Oklahoma v UCLA
Oklahoma is excited to be playing a program that they do not frequently get to play and a program that is of the quality of UCLA.
Coach Jason Horowitz indicated “this is an opportunity for us to align ourselves with the quality athletic brands in the country and challenge us to play some of the best programs in the country.
Oklahoma has one of the youngest squads in the country with only three seniors on its roster. Predominantly freshman and sophomores, the Sooners will be starting freshman, Facundo Gatica of Argentina at flyhalf.
Newcomer Jayce Crowder spearheads the Oklahoma pack while Captain Michael Al Jiboori solidifies the backs. These two have been the anchors of a consistently changing lineup due to experimentation and injury.
One could make an argument that based on 2013/2014 performances, UCLA should have been granted a first round bye. The Bruins finished second in the PAC rugby conference to a strong Cal side. The Bruins tested Cal but ended up falling 32-10 in conference action.
Seb Sharpe who excelled last year in UCLA’s upset win over Dartmouth at the CRC leads the Bruins.
This is the first ever meeting between the Bruins and the Sooner. Cal awaits the winner in the quarter-finals.
Utah V Air Force
Despite finishing third in the PAC rugby conference, Utah will be quite the challenge for the servicemen. Utah is well tested this season as they have faced Cal, UCLA and BYU this season.
Currently ranked ninth by Rugbymag, Utah recently played 3rd ranked in-state rival BYU for the Wasatch Cup. BYU ultimately proved to be too much for a tough Utes side prevailing 41-21.
Utah plays a very physical game, which Air Force is all too familiar with.
“We play Utah every year and it is usually a tight game, Air Force coach Joe Muehlbauer stated to United World Sports. “They played both Cal and BYU tough and will an extremely difficult challenge for us.”
Air Force comes into the weekend with a decisive win under their belt. Handily beating Colorado State, the Zoomies look to build upon the momentum of their recent league win.
Air Force is led by Number 8 and three-time All American Senior Jack Bristol.
“Big players step up in big games. Jack has been leading us all season and I expect nothing less this weekend.”
Bristol’s fellow Seniors flyhalf Joe Rippe and inside center Eric Schreck have been big parts of the Zoomies success this season and will need to put in big performances in order to beat the Utes.
The winner will advance to take on Central Washington University in the next round.
The next four weeks is sure to be filled with quality rugby. The two teams that are left standing will play for the Varsity Cup Championship on May 3rd at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tickets for the May 3rd Championship Final are on sale now at varsitycup.us.
• Tier I: $30.00 – premium lower-level, mid-pitch seating. Limited availability; perfect for those fans who want to be at the center of the action.
• Tier II: $20.00 – quality mid-level seating located at the try lines – a great value for families.
Tier III: $10.00 – price friendly located in the upper-level and try zones.