Rugby team readies for home opener


File Photo

Rugby players wrestle one another to the ground to gain possession of the ball during a game against the Wisconsin All-Stars on Sept. 9 , 2013 at Lakeside Field.

Bob Reynolds, Staff Reporter

The Eastern rugby team takes on the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday at Lakeside Field for what will be its first home game of the season.

Last time out, the Panthers had a tale of two halves against Lindenwood on Sept. 16. At the half, the Panthers were leading 8-7, but Eastern coach Frank Graziano said his team just looked like they fell asleep in the second half.

Lindenwood scored 17 unanswered points to claim a 24-13 victory.

As for Saturday’s game, the Panthers will take on a team they lost to 33-17 in Knoxville, Tenn., last season.

Graziano said the Volunteers bring a physical style of rugby to the table, but expects his team to handle better this year than they did last year.

“It is still going to be about us though,” he said. “We are still a team that is growing and certainly improving everyday. We are expecting to be better on Saturday. The key is can we make the key plays at the key moments and actually win the game.”

The Panthers had extra time to practice leading up to this game because of their canceled game against Southern Illinois-Carbondale.

Graziano said his team has practiced extremely well this week and he has tweaked some things during that time.

“We have given our better runners an opportunity to handle to ball a little more,” he said. “It still has to be executed on game day.”

From the start of the season Graziano has preached defense, which he says is improving pretty well. In their last game the Panthers held Lindenwood to zero points in the first 15 minutes, which he said was the game plan.

Graziano said one of his keys to victory on Saturday is to play more of an aggressive style of defense.

“We’re getting better at that,” he said. “The girls are getting much more confident of doing that, which will potentially create turnovers and at least control the field position a little bit. I think at the level we play, our field position is kind of important.”

The Panthers are heading into the game with no major injuries.

The Panthers and Volunteers will kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lakeside Field.

Bob Reynolds can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]