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Gamecocks, Vols Clash in SCRC

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Gamecocks, Vols Clash in SCRC

The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference East comes down to one game this weekend, and some might say the entire conference comes down to Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

South Carolina plays Tennessee in this game. It’s a clash of 5-0 squads, and while both are set for the crossover playoffs with the West, few would bet against these two meeting once more, this time at USC, in the final in two weeks. That’s partly because the big dogs from the West, LSU, have had to forfeit their season due to a suspension on campus. Mississippi State and Alabama are good teams, but not, yet, at the level of the Gamecocks or Volunteers.

So it’s to a classic SEC matchup between USC and UT that we turn.

Led by the scrappy, uncompromising style of scrumhalf Brian Keown, the Gamecocks have been explosive. Keown is an effective goal kicker who plays tenacious defense and loves to snipe in for a try. Co-captain and fullback Tim Hamill is smart, tough, and very speedy. Lock Zach Gorman (pictured) is the other co-captain and a central figure in the pack. He hits hard, runs harder, and pass, win ball, and lead. When he’s not on the field, says Head Coach Mark Morris, you notice.

Joining Gorman in the second row is Zach Mullineaux, who is a powerful presence also, and on the flank Dana Corcoran just loves disrupting ball for the opposition.

This is the scrappy, hard-hitting, but skilled Gamecock team.

“Overall the season’s been a growing thing for us,” said Morris. “We lost such a quality set of backs for this season, and we needed the young guys to step up, which they did. We have started to gel as we get playing time. For the early part of the season we were sloppy in the first half and then started to get it together. Now we know what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, as a 15.”

And just at the right time. Morris gives a nod to Tennessee, noting that Marty Bradley’s Volunteers are always smart, physical, and skilled.

“I am just excited to see two competitive teams to play this weekend,” said Morris. “And we play this game with both of us excited to have a shot to go undefeated and win the conference. The boys are hungry and we know this will be our hardest competition for the year.”

Bradley and Tennessee know this also.

The Vols are led by flanker Ryan Roper, who is all kinds of problems as a defender and a leader on the field. The Air Force ROTC student out of the Siegel HS program has been a grand servant to Tennessee rugby for four years, and the Vols are loathe to lose him to an Air Force commission next year.

Tennessee asked a lot of Nick Duklewski this year. He was moved to flyhalf in the spring and is still learning the position, but Bradley said he has matured quickly.

“I think he’s really come into his own,” said the coach. “He’s showing a much higher level of leadership, an important trait for a collegiate flyhalf, and he is poised to have some good things happen for him.”

The Volunteers have had to deal with “an array of injuries,” said Bradley, “and as a result we’ve been streaky. When we’re playing well we’re really fun to watch, but other times you wonder what we’re doing out there. We’ve got some ability, and I think the biggest difference this year is that we have strength in several areas. So if something doesn’t work, we can switch to something else.”

Some constancy has helped. While he has had to move his locks around a bit, their front row has been together now for 18 months, and they solidify the effort up front. No. 8 Josh Landon is coming into his own, as are some others.

“I think,” Bradley added ominously, “we’re as strong as we’ve been all season.”

OK then.

The winner of this game will play Alabama in the SCRC semis, while the lose takes on Mississippi State - both in Columbia, SC on November 15. However, it is very possible that both will meet again in the final the following day. This game could just be a teaser.