Rugby team prepares for matrix games after hot start

Junior back Darnell Dothard attempts to advance the ball during a non-conference match against Division I Western Kentucky University Sept. 26. The UNA rugby team beat the Hilltoppers 35-20 Saturday to improve their record to 4-0.

The UNA Rugby team put its undefeated record on the line against unbeaten Division I Western Kentucky, toppling the Hilltoppers 35-20 to improve to 4-0.

After the game, UNA head coach Eddie Roberts was pleased with his team, who handed WKU its first loss of the season.

“The game plan was to get the ball to the backs,” he said. “We have very athletic backs. The forwards played well. They played hard, and they’re aggressive.”

Senior team captain Dan Logan came up big for the Lions, as he has all season, putting the first points on the board, and scoring early in the first half. WKU tied the game 7-7 with 16 minutes left in the first half.

UNA expanded its lead to 14-10 with 6 minutes remaining before pulling away to win 35-20.

Despite the slow start, Roberts said he credited the strong finish to his team’s fitness.

“Our conditioning is getting better,” he said. “We had a lackluster first half, but the conditioning showed up in the second half. We had more ball control.”

UNA has 23 players, which is larger than most collegiate teams. Roberts said one advantage his team owns is the ability to keep its players fresh.

“Depth is very important,” he said. “We’re solid all the way through. We don’t have anybody that’s playing right now that I’m scared to put on the field.”

Roberts said he believes in every player on his team and tries to get everyone involved.

“My philosophy is the sooner I can get a young man in the game, the better,” he said.

While Rugby is a not as popular in the United States as in other countries, it is a sport players quickly decide they are cut out for.

“Rugby is a sport where it takes about five minutes to figure out whether you like it or not,” Roberts said. “The sooner we can get them on the field playing, then they fall in love with the game and they’ll stick with the conditioning because they’ll see the benefits of it.”

Logan is viewed as one of the leaders of the team by his teammates, but motivates his team through his play rather than through outspokenness.

“I’m more of a leader by example,” Logan said. “I feel motivation comes from inside. You shouldn’t have people yelling at you to be motivated all the time.”

Logan also had high praise for his teammates and has high expectations for this team.

“These guys know how to play,” he said. “We have a great team this year and some great teammates.”

The Lions have experience, as the majority of the team played last season.

Junior Darnell Dothard said the experience of this team since the start of the program has grown tremendously.

“Our seniors contribute a lot to this team,” Dothard said. “They play a big part in the leadership of this team. We also have a couple of All-Americans who are vocal on the field.”

The Lions won their conference last season and received a first round exit in the playoffs last season. This season, Dothard said he believes UNA will go further.

“This year we are a whole lot ahead of where we were last season,” he said. “Last year was good, but we have a lot of returners back and some newcomers who have contributed to the team. I see us going really far this year.”

UNA is on the road next weekend at Freed-Hardeman Oct. 3, and returns home for an important opening conference game against Tennessee Tech Oct. 17.