ATLANTA, Ga. – Arkansas State and Life University have built quite the rivalry over the last few years. This year’s Cup Final at the South Independent 7s Conference Championship wrote the latest chapter between the two collegiate juggernauts.
After Life got the best of Arkansas State in the previous two Conference Championships, the Red Wolves finally conquered their southern foe 24-19 in the highly-anticipated Final. Unfortunately for the rest of the South Independent field, Arkansas State and Life combined to score a mind-boggling 302 points versus their opponents’ 12 points over six total matches.
“It was an amazing effort by the boys,” said Arkansas State’s Zinzan Elan-Puttick. “Playing Life is always our biggest obstacle each year. Since losing to Life in Tallahassee last year a lot of the boys have said, ‘That’s the end of this, we don’t want to lose to Life anymore.’ Every time we play them it’s going to be a tough encounter.”
Forced to move from his usual center position to the wing, Elan-Puttick transitioned to the edge flawlessly, scoring two tries in the Final.
“They are by far our biggest rivals and to finally beat them for the first time in three years [at the South Independent Conference Championship] was huge for our team chemistry,” said the junior.
The rivalry between these two programs has been on display beyond conference matches. Life claimed the 2011 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, defeating Arkansas State in the semi-finals. Last year, Arkansas State took the title by beating Life in the Cup Final. In fact, the Red Wolves are 11-1 over the last two National Championships while Life is 10-1-1. Each team’s sole loss came at the hands of their respected rival.
This year’s Red Wolves team has a new look to it, but Elan-Puttick believes they have reloaded and have the firepower to repeat as National Champions.
“We lost two very influential players in Dean Gericke and Zac Mizell, so a lot of younger guys have stepped up and new players have had to step into leadership roles,” he said.
There is no question that Arkansas State does a tremendous job of recruiting players who come fully equipped with impressive rugby backgrounds. Still, it has not been the talent alone that has made Arkansas State a top-tier team.
“What sets us apart from other teams is that we have a fun time and play for each other,” said Zinzan, who honed his rugby skills growing up in his native South Africa. “There are teams across this nation that have great athletes, but when it comes down to it, it’s not the athlete that wins the game. I think it’s the club that stands together and plays as a team that makes the difference, and that’s what Arkansas State has done.”
With Arkansas State taking the automatic bid that Life has been accustomed to winning, the Running Eagles will have to rely on their dominating performance against the rest of the South Independent Conference to earn themselves an at-large selection to the National Championship. Their recent success at the past two College 7s National Championships will not hurt their odds of receiving a bid, not to mention their 2013 D1-A National Title in 15s. If the two schools’ rivalry does indeed write another chapter in Greensboro, it is sure to be a hard-fought and entertaining match.