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Florida v Tennessee Highlights SCRC Weekend

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Florida v Tennessee Highlights SCRC Weekend

In NCAA varsity sports it’s called the Southeastern Conference, or the SEC, but in non-varsity rugby it’s the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference, or SCRC.

But a rivalry by any other name smells as sweet, and among the schools of the SEC, a game between their in-conference foes in any sport matters … a lot.

This weekend, the SCRC features four games, of which one is an enticing season-opener for two teams thinking big.

Auburn visits Ole Miss after both lost their openers last week. Vanderbilt and Kentucky open up their season, while 1-0 LSU visits 1-0 Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. in an intriguing matchup.

But perhaps the most high-profile among fans of colleges from the Southeastern Conference is Florida at Tennessee.

The Volunteers have long been one of the stronger teams in the region, and it wasn’t that long ago that they were the only college (save perhaps LSU) from the SEC that succeeded at rugby. The good news is that they’ve helped raise the tide, and the boats in the SCRC. Now it’s a bit more of a dogfight.

Marty Bradley’s Tennessee team is handling some injuries, and some graduations, and said that “we may have the youngest squad we’ve ever had. For a couple of years we didn’t do as good a job recruiting as we could. We’ve addressed that and on the plus side we have a sophomore class that is pretty seasoned.”

Flanker Ryan Roper, a product of Siegel HS in Tennessee, is back from injury and has been playing very well in early games for the Vols. Fullback Lee Bogitsh is an exciting player and after playing a lot of 7s this summer has expanded his open field running arsenal.

Tennessee welcomes a Florida team that finished sec on to South Carolina last year in the SCRC East, going 4-2

Head Coach Ken Simmons said he is pleased with the Gator rugby team so far. Florida also has a young team, although the youth as Simmons measures it isn’t as young as Tennessee’s. Still the Gators have welcomes several freshman into the A-side, or close to it, and they bring with them some solid HS experience.

“We’re still unsure who will make a big impact, so I guess we wish we could play Tennessee later in the season,” said Simmons. “We do have some exciting young talent, though.”

Florida is led by a solid forward pack that includes last week’s player of the game, lock Alexander Diaz, who scored two tries against Auburn. They have a useful back row - both Caleb Dean and Ryan Gilbert touched down last week - and will need to show some backline cohesion against Tennessee.

But more than anything else, this is a huge rivalry.

“When you talk about playing rugby against other colleges, everyone on campus understands when you play teams from the SEC,” said Bradley. “In all the changes that have happened in college rugby, one thing we got right was forming this conference.”