The good Life awaits Bears in national quarterfinals

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Life University breaks backs all year, but when the season ends, its rugby players focus on repairing them.

The Cal rugby team hopes Life's transition from bruiser to healer begins after today's 1 p.m. quarterfinal match with the Running Eagles at Pat Vincent Field in Moraga, Calif.

Located in Marietta, Ga., Life is a chiropractic college with an undergraduate student body of 727 and the allure of rugby scholarships. While Life's location, size, and type of education differ considerably from its opponent, perhaps the most remarkable difference between the two programs is their history.

While the Bears have played rugby for 129 years, the Running Eagles just recently resurrected their undergraduate program after several years with only graduate and post-graduate Super League squads.

Yet after an impressive 5-1 league campaign, Life and Cal (24-0, 7-0 in the CPD) will meet on the same pitch and battle for a right to move on to the national semifinals. The Running Eagles' lone blemish was a 28-26 loss to Arkansas State, which ultimately cost Life the top seed in the Mid-South region.

One reason for the Running Eagles' success has been the existence and experience of the Super League squad. The two teams train together once a week, according to Life director of rugby Dan Payne.

"It's obviously beneficial to both squads from a training perspective. The sessions can get quite competitive," Payne said in an email. "We have a very young team, as a whole, so it has been quite helpful in the learning curve of our undergraduate players."

Inexperience is not a problem for the Pacific region top seed and defending national champion Bears, but they face their own obstacles. Coach Jack Clark has had to make do with half a field for practice this year -- Witter Rugby Field is currently under repair, one half of the field at a time.

"It's a nightmare," Clark said. "This would be like if first base was 20 feet closer to home plate ... There is no way to imagine space. You either have the space to operate with width and depth and timing and all the things that our sport requires or you don't."

Even as a Bobcat tractor moves dirt while the team warms up for practice, Clark says his players don't discuss the "nearly impossible situation," and focus on the task at hand.

Practice is particularly important for getting the top line in sync, especially since the Bears' best players have not taken the pitch as a unit since Cal's last trip to Pat Vincent Field to play St. Mary's three weeks ago.

"We're all just itching to get out there and play together," vice co-captain and flanker Tom Rooke said.

The Bears struggled to stay together in that battle against the Gaels. While Cal pulled away in the second half to notch a 60-34 victory, St. Mary's frustrated the Bears more than any other squad except British Columbia.

"St. Mary's gave us absolute fits and really had the run of play for parts of the game," Clark said. "I think Life is capable of that."


Christina Jones covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected]

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