Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Article courtesy of USA Rugby with additional content by Ted Hardy
USA Rugby has selected an age-old in-state rivalry for the weekly College Premier Division (CPD) “Barnburner.” The Arizona State Sundevils and the University of Arizona Wildcats are set to clash on Saturday March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the ASU Soccer Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.
After getting a true Barnburner last weekend with the thriller between Penn State and Kutztown, Arizona and Arizona State look to replicate the excitement from last weekend’s Barnburner. The two teams are currently tied for points in the Western Conference and are doggedly determined to bump the other down in the standings.
The last time these two sides met it was an electrifying affair with the Wildcats squeaking by with a 25-24 win over the Sundevils. Neither side is likely to have forgotten that match and encounters like that fan the rivalry flame.
Arizona ran riot against the Wyoming Cowboys in their CPD opener, finishing the match with 56 points including nine tries. Remarkably, the Wildcats played seven freshmen and had nine different players score.
This weekend, Arizona has four starters on the sideline with injury and one (speedy fullback, Peter Tiberio) playing for the USA in the Hong Kong Sevens. The injury count and Tiberio’s absence doesn’t faze Arizona Head Coach, Dave Sitton, who is confident that he has plenty of depth in his squad.
With 33 years of coaching under his belt (all at Arizona), Sitton knows that the ability to overcome attrition throughout the season is one key to advancing to the postseason. The Wildcats have more than 30 experienced players who are ready to step in and contribute when called upon, especially if it’s against their sworn rivals, Arizona State.
Similar to Arizona, the Sundevils are balanced in their scoring and have had seven different players score a total of ten tries in their first two CPD games. With that in consideration, it would seem that ASU Head Coach, Gary Lane, has some squad depth of his own.
Arizona State had a bye last week and a chance to rest and regroup after a very touch-and-go loss against the Utah Utes two weeks ago.
ASU was a Division II team just last year (albeit a highly ranked one), one of the reasons why the Sundevils might be the success story of the CPD thus far. They beat Colorado by nearly 30 points and hung tough with a Utah side stacked with All-Americans, losing narrowly 29-20.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks to soak in the Utah loss and we’re ready to go,” said Lane. The coach and his side have no intention of repeating the fall season loss to the Cats.
“As our program continues to grow and develop, one of our goals is to beat Arizona,” said Lane and to that end, he is getting some help from Arizona State’s gridiron Head Coach, Dennis Erickson.
Erickson allowed two of his players, tight ends Trevor Kohl and Chris Coyle, to play rugby in the spring, telling Lane that it wasn’t a problem, but to just “bring them back in one piece.”
Coyle has two tries on the season and Kohl made CPD history scoring the first ever try in the newly-formed competition.
Sitton has seen film on ASU and knows the athleticism and power that Kohl and Coyle bring.
“Everyone in this league [the CPD] has been scouring their respective campuses for better athletes and ASU has found some,” said Wildcats coach, Sitton.
Both coaches know that they don’t have to do much to get their teams psyched for this rivalry. Arizona will be keen to beat the Sundevils and move into second in the Western Conference standings and ASU is looking for a signature win and a fighting chance to reach the postseason.
“We’re not under any illusion that this won’t be a tough task…and I don’t have a pep talk planned. If anything, I’ll have to calm the guys down a bit,” Lane said, mostly jokingly.
“It has always been a hard rivalry game, just as is the case with every Arizona vs. ASU contest,” said Sitton. “However, this is even more so because it is the inaugural CPD meeting. It does excite the senses.”