The Memphis Tigers Rugby team hosted their season opener on the last day of February against Missouri Science and Technology.
The Tigers started the season with a loss and Memphis kept their first game close but could not do enough in the second half to win. Director of Tigers Rugby Rick Cole said the team had difficulties in the first half but the team played much better in the first half.
"I saw players itching to play," Cole said. "They were hyped up, but they were making mistakes. We had difficulties in the first half, and they got better and better as time went on."
Memphis agreed to play a 15 vs 15 person match with the Miners for a developmental game. The Tigers started the majority of their backups. The UofM trailed 27-0 at halftime and could not score in the first half.
Memphis regrouped and returned to the field after the halftime and outscored the Missouri S&T Miners 17-7 in the second half. The Tigers lost the game 34-17 at their home field.
Team captain Musa Banat said the team's development was by far the greatest takeaway.
"This was a great learning opportunity," Banat said. "Missouri S&T played hard and gave our b-side some real competition."
The Missouri S&T Miners ended last season ranked fifth in the nation and the Tigers finished at fourth in the nation. Both teams went to the Division II playoffs and lost to the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.
Cole said he expected the team to play, get experience and get better and it happened as the game progressed.
"I thought we might lose the game," Cole said. "Their best players played our b-side. We played this game to learn. The players began to put the pieces together and they got better and better as the game went on. I was very proud of our players' performance."
Memphis player Ian Byers was named the 'man of the match' for his offensive and defensive performance. Byers disrupted the opposing back line twice, picking off errant passes and had two of the biggest runs in the game. Byers was honored for his performance after the game.
Due to Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference requirements, Memphis was forced to split their team into a 15 side and 7 side for separate competitions. The Tigers have been dealt a difficult hand before either season ever started.
Head coach Marc Holley stepped down on his own terms one week prior to the Missouri S&T game. Cole has delegated coaching responsibility to be divided between the remaining six coaches.
Austin Kelley tore his ACL and fractured his knee prior to the season opener. Kelley, the 2019 SCRC Player of the Year, is not expected to return within the next six months. Kelley said he injured his leg and did not know the severity of the injury and re-injured it more severely.
"I was shocked and sad," Cole said. "You can't replace an Austin Kelley. Playing without him is going to be really tough and we will have to suck it up and move on."
Cole said the main goal for the rest of the season is to win the SCRC 7s championship. The Tigers are scheduled to play in Murfreesboro for the Moosemen 7s tournament March 7.