The Tiger Rugby program began their debut season with a decisive win last Saturday after a previous non-conference victory.
Memphis opened its season with a 1-0 win after defeating the University of North Alabama. Coach Steve Swatzyna said he expected his team to win by a decent margin and was pleased with the overall outcome.
“We expected to win soundly, and we held our own,” Swatzyna said. “They were a bigger team, and it was a good test for us.”
The Tigers defeated North Alabama in Memphis last season 38-12. Only the 23 eligible Memphis players traveled to Florence, Alabama, to play the Lions. 34 players were expected to be eligible, but a combination of registration and travel complications kept 11 athletes from participating. Swatzyna and his 23 players carried their winning ways into this season with a 26-7 victory.
The Lions scored first to take the lead 7-0, but North Alabama never found any more points in the game. The Tigers took over and scored 26 unanswered points to seal the comeback. Grant Caldwell, Musa Banat, Jalen Jackson and Brittin Roedel each scored a try. Caldwell was 3-for-4 in conversion kick completion. A decent effort from the team as a whole provided the points it took to once again upend the Lions.
“We played well in most of the areas of the game,” Swatzyna said. “I think we can confidently leave that game in the back of minds as a good example of what we can do in the future.”
Following the first game, the Tigers agreed to play their junior varsity against the Vanderbilt Commodores, who took the game by a comfortable margin of 21-12.
Considering the intermission between the games was seven minutes, Swatzyna said fatigue had taken a substantial effect on his team. The Tigers and the Lions played four 20-minute quarters for a total of 80 minutes.
Neither of the matches had an effect on the conference standings, but they did allow an early test with little impact on later season results. Although the Tigers were beaten by Vanderbilt, it will be kept off the varsity record.
Following both games, four UofM players left early with injuries. Inside center, Landon Smith left the UNA game early with a concussion and will not return until he has cleared the USA Rugby concussion protocol. Flanker Sam Johnson was also taken out of the game early after suffering a sprained ankle. Johnson is not expected to play until further notice. Ethan Scott, a center, suffered a laceration above his nose and left eye, later receiving stitches. Scott is expected to return to the squad for the Georgia Tech game. Jalen Jackson played wing over the weekend and had a laceration above his eye as well. Jackson was removed from the game Saturday and is expected to play in the upcoming game.
The Tigers are set to play the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on September 14. Both teams agreed to play a doubleheader, with the first starting at noon. The second contest is expected to be a junior varsity match to allow newer players to gain experience. It will be the first Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference game in Tiger Rugby history. Swatzyna said the game will be a victory by 12 to 14 points. The last time the Tigers beat Georgia Tech was in 2014 in Atlanta by a score of 66-0.
“This game is going to set the tone of how our team will stack up against other teams in the conference,” Swatzyna said. “Georgia Tech is a middle-of-the-conference team and it is a good match to start the conference.”