Gamecocks looking forward to challenge
It’s been more than a decade since South Carolina defeated Clemson in a 15’s rugby match. The Gamecocks will try to break that streak when the team takes on the Tigers 1 p.m. Saturday at Bluff Road fields.
Both teams enter the contest with 2-0 records. Clemson is ranked 3rd in the latest National Collegiate Rugby Coaches Poll while South Carolina is ranked 8th. The Tigers have posted blowout home-game wins against LSU (71-5) and Georgia (39-0).
The Gamecocks defeated the Citadel 50-7 and narrowly escaped Athens with a 25-22 win over Georgia September 17. A home game against Belmont Abbey was cancelled last week due to weather.
The two squads squared off annually from the 1970s to early 2000s with the Tigers winning most of those matches. The Gamecocks last win over Clemson was a 15-13 decision in the 2011 Palmetto Tournament finals. The next year, both teams moved into different conferences and contests between the two became less frequent.
Two years ago, the Tigers pivoted away from Division I rugby, hired Troy Hall as head coach, and joined the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference (SCRC). The realignment renewed Clemson’s traditional rivalries with South Carolina and Tennessee.
Last fall, Clemson crushed the Gamecocks 55-7. The Tigers went on to finish second in the conference (to Tennessee) while South Carolina was fifth. The Gamecocks, under first-year coach John Roberts, showed some improvement throughout the fall and hit their stride last spring during 7s. South Carolina defeated Clemson for the SCRC 7s championship and finished with a 25-11-1 record, which included a 3-1 record over Clemson.
The Gamecocks also onboarded an excellent 20-member freshman class (Roberts’ first class) in August. Eight of those players should see some playing time against Clemson Saturday.
While South Carolina had the upper hand in 7s last spring, Roberts knows that turning the trick against Clemson in 15s is a much steeper hill.
“How well you do in 15s is a better reflection of the overall strength of your program,” said Roberts. “Clemson is well coached and are a fundamentally sound team. We will have to play our best game to be competitive. We are working to close the gap. Saturday’s game will be an indicator for us and a fantastic challenge for our team.”