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D1 Elite Preview: Can Life Break Lindenwold's Streak?

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D1 Elite Preview: Can Life Break Lindenwold's Streak?

Photos Todd Lunow and Life University.

The history of the D1 Elite finals is one of Lindenwood beating Life University.

While there was no final held in the 2019-2020 season due to COVID, from the 2017-18 season through the 2022-23 season these teams have met every year in the D1 Elite championship game. Lindenwood has won every single time.

2023-24 Women's D1 Elite Final Sunday, April 14 at Grand Canyon University; Life on The Rugby Network KO 10PM ET>>

So is it a foregone conclusion this week?

No, not it’s not. 

The reason is in part because last year’s final was achingly close—17-15, in fact, and that was partly fueled by the fact that Life lost their starting flyhalf for the game in the first five minutes.

Second … Life has already beaten Lindenwood this spring. March 16’s 24-19 victory in Marietta is worth taking a closer look.

Meaningful First Half Events

Life took the first lead at 7-0. The Running Eagles punched over the first try at about 15 minutes and, crucially, got an excellent conversion from a tough angle by Nina Mason. Lindenwood answered brilliantly with a long-range try, and it would be easy for Life to think “Oh, OK, here we go.” But, of course, they didn’t.

Maybe the fact that they remained ahead 7-5 helped. 

That Restart

Restarts are enormously important in rugby. It’s a huge topic of conversation in 7s but it’s worth discussing in 15s. If you don’t catch the kick sent to you on the fly you almost always put yourself under pressure. Similarly, winning back your kick, or at least making the other team’s receipt of that kick unpleasant, is important, too.

On this occasion, Mason’s restart was very good—high and nicely placed to force Lindenwood flanker Ahnea Aupiu to move to catch it. Add to that Life’s Sorensen Award finalist, Matilda Kocaj, chased the kick perfectly and leapt up to catch the ball while Aupiu was firmly planted to catch and charge ahead. 

Kocaj did not catch the ball; in fact she knocked it on. But the play was enough. The ball rolling around gave Life plenty of time to arrange their defense and Lindenwood had no real room to get out of trouble.

So back we come for a scrum. Yes it was Lindenwood’s scrum, but that defensive pressure was still there. Lindenwood went wide, Kocaj laid in a big hit … loose ball, turnover, try for Life’s Harlie Kallichuk.

Two massive plays without the ball—one reason why Kocaj has received the accolades she has received.

Mason slotted that kick, as well—the standard of goalkicking in women’s college rugby is quite varied. Thegood ones are very good, but few and far between. The average ones usually get the easy kicks, but more distance and more angle cuts their success rate down heavily.

Mason, who was a superb goalkicker in high school at Doylestown in Pennsylvania, is in the top drawer in this category—we could do a long article on the various reasons why she’s successful. Suffice to say she knows what she’s doing.

OK so that made it 14-5 after 23 minutes. Once again Lindenwood responded, and once again Life didn’t fold. And of course we see another Sorensen Award finalist doing her thing. Freda Tafuna got just about the most innocuous ball possible—flat-footed and 25 meters from the Life line, Tafuna just accelerated, surged through three tacklers, and was in … a lesson in power and brutality Life would do well to learn.

The Death Knell That Wasn’t

Lindenwood took the lead at the end of the first half of that game, and that looked to GRR (if no one else) like a turning point. Lindenwood had, of course, beaten Life 27-0 in the fall. They were champions five straight times. They were re-taking control.

Had Lindenwood scored right after halftime we might have seen Lindenwood take that control.

But they didn’t. In fact, Life had the ball for most of the first part of the second period and played repeatedly on the front foot. Finally Kocaj went over from short range and once again Mason slotted a difficult conversion. 

That made it 21-19, and Mason iced it with a penalty goal with no time left.

But in between those two scoring events was a long, long period of Lindenwood trying to get into scoring position, and Life pushing them back.

The period was marked by the Lions trying to set up their shape with hard, direct running from the forwards and then looking for that space with their dangerous speedsters.

But Life worked enormously hard on defense; they stayed pretty organized and they exerted pressure. As the clock also applied pressure Lindenwood wasn’t able to consolidate multi-phase possession inside the Life 22. It was the Running Eagles that forced turnovers, and their kicking game which sent Lindenwood all the way back to start all over again.

In these types of rugby games penalties often tell the tale. The team defending eventually has to give up a penalty—offside, not rolling, or hands in the ruck being most common. To avoid that you need to be patient, and you need to be fit—getting up and onside and doing the unglamorous work of getting in position is what avoids those penalties. (There was also a moment that might have put it all away when mason intercepted a pass and looked for all the world set to score; but she didn’t have the full handle on the ball and it slipped loose.)


So that is the formula, maybe, for Life. Be organized and disciplined and physical on defense; use the kicking game. Make Lindenwood lose the ball with hard tackles.

For Lindenwood? They will have learned a lot about being drawn into a slow game while having to mount a comeback. Scrums were bad news for them, not because they couldn’t scrum, but because they were precious seconds ticking away. 

Patience and ball security will be LIndenwood’s friend.

But for fans, maybe their friend will be a close, tense final. That is what we think will happen.