Saturday recap – Collegiate Rugby Championship
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Day 2 of the Collegiate Rugby Championship marked the beginning of knockout play in the women’s brackets and the start of pool play for the men. For the women, the question remained whether the huge favorites of Life, Lindenwood, and Penn State could avoid a major stumble against top-notch competition or whether the Running Eagles, Lions, and Nittany Lions would stroll into the semifinals for Day 3. For those three teams, Day 2 proved business as usual. Life handled Navy (38–0), Penn State dispatched Bloomsburg (39–0), and Lindenwood got by a very tough Kutztown (26–5). The quality in the women’s division is clearly on the rise, but the top three squads are still in a league of their own. The fourth spot in the semis was a great deal less easy to predict. Dartmouth and the NSCRO All-Stars hammered each other in what was easily one of the most exciting matches of the tournament with Dartmouth coming out on top in the end (14–7).

On Day 3, Dartmouth will need to bring its A-game if it is to slow down the Running Eagles juggernaut in the semifinals. Through four matches in Philly, Life has posted a jaw-dropping 227–0 scoreline, including a 38–0 victory over Navy and 43–0 over Bloomsburg, which were each quarterfinalists.

The other women’s semifinal is a rematch of the 2015 CRC final, which Penn State won (24–7) over Lindenwood in the Lions first of consecutive finals defeats. In 2016, Lindenwood bested the Nittany Lions in the semifinals and, a couple weeks ago, Lindenwood was victorious at the USA Rugby 7s tournament.

For the men, with six pools and eight quarterfinals spots, the only certain path to stay in contention for the cup was to top your pool. Although topping a pool in the CRC has always been a tough ask, doing so this year is something special. It can safely be said that the quality of competition in this year’s CRC has never been rivaled

Pool A was comprised of Dartmouth, Saint Mary’s, Temple, and Boston College. Heading into the day, it looked like Dartmouth and Saint Mary’s were the only teams expected to push for the top spot. In the end, the pool was decided by the winner of the Gaels vs. Big Green, the big surprise of Pool A was how competitive the Boston College was. The Eagles pushed the Gales, dropping 19–12, and then similarly fell just one score shy of Dartmouth (26–19). Settling for the third seed, Boston College finally got its well earned victory, defeating Temple (24–0). The Owls struggled to find their footing in pool play, dropping all three matches by a combined score of 94–0.

In the pool decider, the Gaels overcame a halftime deficit to pull away from Dartmouth and secure the second overall seed for Day 3. Dartmouth’s defeat kept the Big Green in the hunt for a quarterfinal as the last several matches played out, but, in the end, the two-time champions will not make it three this year.

Pool B was another pool that looked to have two clear-cut favorites. In the end, like Pool A, the final pool match between favorites Life and Arkansas State was a winner-take-all match, but Wisconsin and Notre Dame proved very tough outs. The Fighting Irish fell to Arkansas State 22–7 to start the day, then ran with the Running Eagles for a 19–12 defeat, and finally ran out of gas against Wisconsin (35–0). Wisconsin also managed to find the try zone numerous times against Life and ASU, but could neither upset the Running Eagles (29–17) nor topple the Red Wolves (21–12).

The pool decider was a classic seesaw rugby match with a late try by Life pulling the team’s level at 19–19. An error on the ensuing restart gave Arkansas State a free kick on full time. With the +5 advantage in the points differential, the Red Wolves opted to tap and kick for touch to accept the draw. The result left ASU as one of only two pool champions without a clean sweep through pool play, earning the Red Wolves a tough sixth seed matchup against the Pool C champion.

While the Lindenwood women have become a fixture of the CRC, their male counterparts, like the Gaels of Saint Mary’s, were making their CRC debut. Slotted into Pool C, Lindenwood was picked by many to win the CRC. At the close of pool play, the Lions certainly remain on track. The Lions defeated an always tough Army squad (33–7), got by the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy (24–7), and closed with a win over Saint Joseph’s (29–12) to clinch the three seed.

Saint Joseph’s showed well in pool play, earning a victory over Navy (17–10) before stumbling down the stretch with losses to Army (24–10) and Lindenwood to close out. Highlighting Pool C was the always exciting Army-Navy match. In the end, the men of Westpoint came out on top (17–14). For a short while, Army had hopes of sneaking into the quarterfinal, but Dartmouth’s loss later in the day made certain that the one-time runner up would have to look to 2018 for CRC glory.

Pool D was what many people were calling the toughest pool. At the close of Day 2, I think it safe to say that those people were right. The pool produced two draws and ultimately only sent one team through to the quarterfinals after a round-robin meat grinder. AIC in its first CRC boasted a victory over the 2012 runner-up Arizona Wildcats (12–7). AIC then failed to secure another victory, though also not conceding defeat. AIC tied UCLA (19–19) and Virginia Tech (12–12). A victory in either match would have seen AIC through to the quarterfinals. Instead, the fate of AIC swung on the outcome of UCLA vs. Arizona. Had the Wildcats won, as they looked poised to do in the first half, AIC would have earned the top spot in Pool D. Instead, the Bruins came roaring back and won (17–12) to enter the quarterfinals as the number six team.

Pool E also looked like it may produce two teams for the quarterfinal. The four-time defending CRC champion Golden Bears of Cal were expected to win the pool in fairly convincing fashion. Cal bested a tough Clemson squad (33–12) and defeated Penn State (28–19) to secure the top spot in the pool. Cal’s astonishing (54–0) win over the Delaware Blue Hens set Cal up to secure the top overall seed with a +84 points differential.

By the time the Penn State vs. Clemson match kicked off, the quarterfinals were all but officially out of reach for either squad. With Penn State earlier beating Delaware (31–0) and losing to Cal, the Nittany Lions needed to defeat Clemson by at least fifty-two points. Clemson, having defeated Delaware (20–12) and lost to Cal needed to defeat Penn State by at least eighty-seven points. In the end, the Nittany Lions rolled out a tremendous victory (31–7) to close Day 2.

What ended Penn State’s hopes of a quarterfinal birth was the Pool E decider between Indiana and Kutztown. Had Kutztown won, Penn State’s ultimate margin would have been enough to reach the quarterfinals. Instead, the Hoosiers played their most comprehensive match of the day against a Golden Bears team that has defeated Indiana at the last two CRCs. As the saying goes, it’s tough to beat a good team three times, and the Hoosiers proved the adage right on this day, winning 29–19. Kutztown had steam rolled through pool play, defeating South Carolina (36–0) and Tennessee (49–0) earlier in the day. A victory for the Golden Bears over Indiana would have secured the top spot. Instead, the loss left Kutztown as the best team with one loss. Because Life had two wins and a draw, the Running Eagles secured the seventh seed, leaving Kutztown to face Cal from the eighth spot. For the Hoosiers, a big victory over Tennessee (34–0) and a narrow win over South Carolina (15–7) left a tough draw in the four seed against UCLA awaited for Day 2.

A tip of the hat goes to the Volunteers after starting the day with two demoralizing losses, they came to play against South Carolina, matching the Gamecocks in tries but falling on conversions (14–10).

Day 3 is the day of champions out at Talen Energy Stadium and promises amazing match ups in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

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