November 23, 2013, Starkville MS – Memphis traveled to Starkvegas to take on the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. State has had a good run in the SEC and under coach Arrera has built a respectable club of strong athletes. They beat Alabama by 40 points the week before, so we knew that they had some horses. However, we’ve had a good run as well and believed we were up to the task. What we had not planned on was the 30 mph wind gusts that we would be contending with.
We ended up losing the match 17-10, but truly, with a few exceptions, I think our lads played the best game that I have ever seen them play. They had a few bad breaks, but the Tigers controlled the match from the kickoff to the final whistle. We won all of our scrums and most of theirs over a larger pack. We won all of our lineouts and many of theirs. The few lineouts that they won were terribly disrupted. We effectively controlled the rucks, winning all of ours and many of theirs. Our backline defense gave them no room to run. Our game plan was solid. The main problem we encountered was getting the ball wide to our speedsters. As we attempted to swing the ball to the wings, the wind would catch the pass and off it would go.
We ran into the wind the first half, which was a bit tough. Our clearing kicks didn’t stand a chance, while theirs would sail. Their first try was scored when an attempt to clear was caught by the wind and the state wide winger took the ball down the sideline.
One of the many highlights was the work of the forwards at the goal line. In the Alabama match, a big number 8 had scored several times over our forwards who were lackadaisical and uncommitted. In the State match, the forwards were fearless. They held tough at the line as State tried time and time again to crash over. The forwards worked well together to prevent any penetration, actually pushing State back on three 5 meter penalties.
Phase play was amazing. The Tigers demonstrated that the style of play that we had been working on for the past season was taking hold. We would run 8-10 phases of play in a row before a stoppage. Great ball control, grinding out three to five meters at a time with good support. If there is a criticism, it is that we would swing the ball wide in a tough wind when we could have continued to stay in tight and grind out the yards.
Mauls at kickoffs and lineouts were fun to watch. The Tigers would catch, form and drive down the field for 20 meters at a time. Coming off of the maul the players would effectively drop into phase play. Fantastic rugby.
We had hoped that we would take off with the wind at our backs. This allowed us to use lofted kicks to stay under their posts. But even with the wind at our backs, we could not get the ball effectively to our outside players who were desperate for a chance to run.
Phil scored our only try with a heady move. There was a kick in goal and he was quick enough to get in and dot the try. More impressive was the conversion kick. The wind was so strong that he had to kick almost straight across the field and watch as the wind blew the ball through the uprights.
I had been talking to the lads about leaving it all on the field. I can tell you that many of the forwards were totally exhausted following the match. This level of intensity allowed our forwards to dominate and it was great to see this level of commitment to the team by the players.
The assistant coach from Miss State came up to me after the match and stated that we were the classiest club that he had ever seen play. He was new to State, having spent time coaching in the Big 10. I received the same report from the referee. We were focused on our play, did not get into scraps. Never addressed the referee and were true gentlemen. We worked well together and supported each other. This team has embraced the concepts of rugby regarding the use of extreme intensity with poise and discipline. Made me very proud.
So, we dominated in all areas of play… tackling, scrumming, rucking, mauling, lineouts and intensity. We just came up short on points. Dang… sometimes that happens. They gave it their all. Which makes for a tough loss, but I was so impressed with the play of the Tigers, that I did not leave the pitch disappointed. I believe we are ready to take on our South Independent Rugby Conference (SIRC) opponents when we start conference play January 26th.
At the post match social, the teams took turns recognizing the players for their contributions to the match. JC Russell was chosen by State as the best forward for his intensity in phase play and tough scrumming. He carried the ball for at least 80 yards in the match… three yards at a time. TJ was honored as the best back for his tough running and tackling. Our centers were really tough on the day. Tezman Mosley stood at wing and was his typical shifty self. He dazzled the crowd with his lateral mobility and darting running style. He was given “special consideration” recognition.
The Tigers take a much needed break to work on studies and finish out the academic year. We will be training in the off season, running for endurance and speed and hitting the weights to increase our leg drive. Our end of the year social will be at our home bar, Ubee’s, Thursday, December 5th at 6:00. All Tiger fans are welcome to stop by.
Special thanks for the Tiger Rugby 100 folks who give to the success of the Tigers. And, thanks to you who have linked your Kroger Card to the Tigers, allowing us to get some much needed funds. Money is the grease that makes the team work. We need all old boys to stand in support of the Tigers. Thanks to all of you who have stepped up to help us out.
Here are the photos from the match.
Thanks to Pam Brewi for the photos.
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