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Huge Game in SCRC as Tennessee Takes On Clemson

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Huge Game in SCRC as Tennessee Takes On Clemson

Photo Tennessee Rugby.

The Big Game looms this weekend in the SCRC, as undefeated Tennessee faces undefeated Clemson in a game that will likely decide who is the top seed going into the conference playoffs.

For Tennessee, this is well-stomped territory, as the Volunteers are a regular contender in the conference. But for Clemson this is new, because Clemson is new to the SCRC. Clemson actually joined for the 2020 fall season but, of course, that was not played. Despite not being an SEC school, Clemson fits the SCRC nicely as it is a college of similar size and reputation, in the same geographical area, and the rugby team operates under the same circumstances as everyone else—a club team with alumni support.

So it made sense, and made even more sense this week as Clemson and Tennessee are old rugby rivals from the days of the old South territorial championships.

“We’ve got a lot of alumni who played in that rivalry, on both sides, coming out talking about the game and showing their support,” said Tennessee Head Coach Marty Bradley. “The guys who played in those games are now on the alumni boards and still involved. It’s great to see and we’re really pleased Clemson is in the conference.”

When Clemson joined, said Bradley, the read of the teams knew they were bringing in a possible conference champion. No one was shrinking from the challenge, least of all Clemson.

New Head Coach Troy Hall had a year to work on basic skills and team culture before actually playing a conference game, and that probably helped.

“We wanted to do things a bit differently,” said Hall. “We did a lot of work developing the programs and we had a big focus on the environment of the team, and having fun, but at the same time there’s a word we use while we’re training—Mahi, which means work.”

The Maori word for work has become a touchstone for the players, but it’s also been one for the coaching staff of Hall, Darragh Leader, Jason Damm, and Josh Larsen. They have been working to combine work ethic, skill development, and fun.

“Between the four of us we’ve been able to rotate and keep things pretty fresh,” Hall said. “We’ve got a good feeling around the place.”

On the field Clemson is creative with the ball and aggressive when they don’t have it. 

“We want the ball back,” said Hall.

And turnovers have unleashes some good young talent such as tall forward Cole Frank, who has shown the pace of a wing. John Auritch is a very dynamic attacker while the moving of Tom Goodall from flyhalf to inside center has allowed him to communicate and set up the entire backline. 

In the forwards, Baylor Williams has transferred in and been a very good fit at flanker, while Reid Brandt, about to graduate now, leads from the front.

As for Tennessee, they have been playing really well from the jump, beating Ohio State in their opening non-conference game and sitting 2-0 after a forfeit win over Kennesaw State and a tense 22-15 decision over Kentucky. In that game they needed second-half tries from hooker Greg Giangiulio and center Jake Rath to pull it out. Big lock Greg Janowick and powerful prop Braxton Heard, along with depth at goalkicker where Rath, Jack Ambrose, or Carson Richards can all get points, means they can win out wide and win a slugfest, too.

“It’s been two years since we had that anticipation of a big game,” said Bradley. “Then we got that with Kentucky and we have it again with Clemson. We’re just so happy just to be playing—to be able to do the things we kind of took for granted. But now we get to play this game. We’ve been improving, but I told the guys if I have to get you guys psyched up for this game on Saturday, you’re in the wrong sport, because this is as big as it gets for us.”

 

More To It Than That

There are other big games in the SCRC. While South Carolina is having a tough season, the Gamecocks could pull out a performance against 2-1 Kentucky and that would hurt Kentucky’s seeding going into the playoffs, and also put South Carolina in a position to make a run in their back-ended season.

And Georgia vs Alabama is another one to watch as both hope to secure a top-four place. Georgia won early over USC but in games against Clemson and Kentucky were unable to cross the tyline. Alabama was shut out by Clemson and only got two penalties against UK, and their lone win is a forfeit win. So we have yet to see Alabama really get going.

The next four weeks are therefore rife with standings implication.