by Travis Normand
February 29, 2020
Note: This blog is a ‘hobby’ and I am not a professional writer (if you couldn’t tell from the entries). While I have time to gather the info and post it here, I don’t always have time to give it a full-edit before posting. If I tried to make it perfect before posting, it wouldn’t get posted in a timely manner. If you see anything terribly wrong, feel free to contact me and let me know.
It must have something to do with the fact that today is February 29th; a day that only comes around once every four years.
The Aggies flew to Georgia yesterday (Friday) in order to play No. 4 ranked Life University Rugby in Marietta, Georgia. The XVs game against the ‘Running Eagles’ kicked-off today, Saturday, February 29, 2020, at 2 p.m. EST, and was broadcast live on FloRugby.com (and while I am not 100% sure, I believe the game is archived for viewing HERE).
Note: Life University’s athletic website lists two men’s rugby teams; one being a “club team” and one a “college team” that plays other D1A Rugby teams. A&M played Life’s “college team.”
The Aggies played Life in College Station last season on January 17, 2019; with Life winning 71-3. However, today’s game in Georgia ended with what I would call a totally different outcome. I don’t mean to indicate that the Aggies won the game in Georgia today, as they did not. In fact, they were on the losing end of a 112-0 ‘beating’ by the Eagles; but, as they say, sometimes great lessons come in the form of tough adversity, and hopefully this is just one of those lessons and/or times. On the other hand, if you aspire to be the best, you have to beat the best; and while the Aggies didn’t come anywhere close to beating the Eagles today, they definitely stepped-up and played them tough. That is something most college rugby teams are not willing to even attempt.
How good is Life’s rugby team? Consider their 2019-2020 schedule which includes ONLY ranked teams: No. 6 Navy, No. 3 Arkansas State, No. 5 Lindenwood, No. 23 Texas A&M, No. 10 Davenport, and No. 13 Penn State.
A&M’s rugby team and coach are determined to constantly improve as a rugby team and program, and this is evident by the level of competition they are playing against. In fact, a quick glance at their schedule would tell you that the Aggies are not afraid of playing anyone (did I mention this was their second-straight year to play Life?).
Don’t believe me? Well, not only did the Aggies play No. 4 Life University in Georgia, but they have also traveled (or will soon travel) from coast-to-coast. They started the 2019-2020 season in South Carolina (Clemson), then played games in Texas (obviously), Louisiana (LSU), and now Georgia (Life). They are scheduled to travel to California this next week to play Santa Clara and Cal Poly, before returning home and traveling to Norman, Oklahoma for the RRRC Championship vs. OU.
The Aggies will also play Wisconsin (in Texas) on March 19; and finally, don’t forget that the Aggies hosted No. 7 BYU (in Texas) back in January 2020.
In other words, before this 2019-2020 season is over, the Aggies will have played in the following six states: Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, and California. Further, while not traveling to these other states, they will have also played teams from: Utah (BYU) and Wisconsin.
Don’t like counting states? Well, what about counting D1A Rugby Conferences? This season the Aggies will have played teams from five major D1A conferences including: (1) the Red River Rugby Conference, (2) the Mid-South Conference, (3) the Big Ten Conference, (4) the California Conference, and (5) the Rocky Mountain Rugby Conference.
All of this travel is related to XVs play and these numbers don’t include anything from the XVs post-season (other than the RRRC Championship game).
These numbers also don’t include any 7s games (all of which have been in Texas and against RRRC teams so far); however, the Aggies have qualified for the 7s National Championship post-season which is supposed to take place later this spring.
In any event, if traveling to, or playing teams from, eight different states (seven, if not counting Texas) doesn’t get you significant exposure, then it’s only because others are not paying attention (and you can’t help that). As it stands, the current team has a coach and a mentality that is along the lines of “have ball, will travel!” This helps a program grow by providing an amazing experience for the boys currently playing, and also helps establish A&M as a club that takes its rugby seriously.
Having said all of that, nothing is going to take the “0” off the scoreboard right now. From what I can tell, I don’t think the Aggies have been on the receiving end of a shut-out since the 2016-2017 season or before (I think it was in February of 2014 vs. Arkansas State). In any event, it’s been a while since it has happened; but that is a testament to the work and improvement this team has put in. Consider the fact that no other team in Texas can say they haven’t been shut-out in six seasons.
The following is my game re-cap from having watched the game on FloRugby.com. You can also read the score-by-score summary found on D1ARugby.com. As you will read, I did not include a lot of information as to which A&M player specifically made any of the following plays as it was very hard to see the various Aggie jersey numbers (as they are white on white, and that doesn’t show well on t.v. or in person).
No. 23 Texas A&M at No. 4 Life University
February 29, 2020 at 2 p.m. EST
Broadcast on FloRugby.com
(1) 00:00 A&M kicks off to Life U (“LU”).
- 1:38 LU’s No. 8 (Chase Schor-Haskin, Florida) = Try: 5-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Tabonga Ngonyamo, Zimbabwe) conversion (“CV”) is good: 7-0.
- Score: LU 7-0.
(2) 02:39 A&M kicks off to LU.
- 2:56 LU’s No. 15 (George Phelan, England ) = Try: 12-0 (Phelan finished an 80 meter run that started at about the A&M 22 meter line where LU”s No. 2, Brian Muntanga of Zimbabwe, carried the ball a few meters before off-loading to No. 15 Phelan, both of whom went virtually untouched to the goal line);
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) conversion is good: 14-0 (at this point, Ngonyamo is 2 for 2 on CVs).
- Score: LU 14-0.
(3) 04:05 A&M kicks off to LU.
- LU almost takes the ball to the goal line again but commits a knock-on just after crossing the midfield line; the result is an A&M scrum. However, despite A&M putting the ball into the scrum, LU is able to get the ball out of the scrum (LU’s forwards dominated many of the scrums during the game, as they were able to get an amazing amount of push without committing a penalty or causing the scrum to collapse). After getting the ball, LU began working the ball up-field again, but committed a penalty just before reaching the 5 meter line.
- Due to the penalty, there is another A&M scrum, and this time A&M is able to maintain possession of the ball. However, seeing that A&M is backed-up inside their own 5 meter line, they kick the ball into touch from inside their own try zone. Unfortunately for A&M, the ball didn’t travel very far and went into touch at around the 22 meter line.
- LU’s throw-in at the line-out goes favorably for the Eagles; and while they should have scored again in this moment, A&M’s defense played well enough to prevent the score (and LU’s ball carrier ended up going out the back of the try zone, across the dead ball line, without putting the ball down for a try). Possession of the ball goes to A&M, and the Aggies kick to midfield.
- 7:35 LU’s No. 8 (Schor-Haskin) = Try: 19-0 (No. 8 scores his second try after taking the ball 50 meters to the goal line).
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) conversion is good: 21-0 (Ngonyamo is 3 for 3 on CVs).
- Score: LU 21-0.
(4) 09:00 A&M kicks off to LU:
- A&M is able to obtain possession of the ball and kick it from about their 22 meter line to LU’s 22 meter line. This results in a couple of back-and-forth kicks with both teams looking for field position, and LU finding it, as an LU player takes the ball almost 60 meters before turning it over close to the 5 meter line. This is followed by an A&M scrum in which LU obtains possession of the ball and scores a try.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) = Try: 26-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) conversion is good: 28-0 (Ngonyamo is 4 for 4 on CVs; however, not to take anything away from Ngonyamo, it should be noted that all four CVs have been from directly in front of the goal posts).
- Score: LU 28-0.
(5) 14:50 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 16:00 LU’s No. 2 (Muntanga) = Try: 33-0 (Muntanga made the try but didn’t go over the goal-line uncontested, as he had an Aggie player holding onto his jersey, trying to pull him back).
- LU’s No 10 (Ngonyamo) conversion is good: 35-0 (Ngonyamo is 5 for 5 on CVs).
- Score: LU 35-0.
(6) 17:16 A&M kicks off to LU:
- LU gets the ball at the kick off but commits a penalty, and A&M kicks to touch inside LU”s 22 meter line. This is a fairly critical moment as it is A&M’s first real chance to score. Both teams battle and while A&M gets inside LU’s 5 meter line, the Aggies are unable to get across the goal line. Finally, LU commits a penalty and A&M opts to go for post, attempting a penalty kick (“PK”); but unfortunately, the Aggies miss the PK and the score remains 35-0 in favor of LU. (This ends up being A&M’s best chance at preventing a shut-out.)
- LU kicks the ball out to midfield where A&M receives it but knocks it on, resulting in a LU scrum in which LU gets the ball and LU’s No. 13 (Conner Mooneyham; Magnolia, Texas) goes 50 meters for another try = 40-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) misses his first CV on the day; however, it was also his first kick that was “difficult,” as he was kicking from the far side of the field as opposed to being straight on (Ngonyamo is 5 for 6 on CVs).
- Score: LU 40-0.
(7) 23:00 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 28:40 LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) = Try: 45-0 (No. 10 scores his try on the day).
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) misses his second CV (back-to-back misses) = Score 45-0; however, this was another CV kick from the far corner of the field (Ngonyamo is 5 for 7 on CVs).
- Score: LU 45-0.
(8) 30:14 A&M kicks off to LU:
- After some play, A&M commits a penalty, allowing LU to kick the ball into touch close to the 5 meter line. Following their throw-in, LU sets the maul and carries the ball 5 meters over the goal line and scores.
- 33:06 LU’s No. 2 (Muntanga) = Try: 50-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) attempts his CV from the far corner and misses his third straight (Ngonyamo is 5 for 8 on CVs).
- Score: LU 50-0.
(9) 34:45 A&M kicks off to LU:
- LU receives the ball and begins working it 80 meters up the field, crossing the goal line, but is held-up by A&M defenders. The result is a LU scrum at the 5 meter line, and LU moves/pushes the scrum to the goal line and scores at about 37:10.
- LU’s No. 8 (Schor-Haskin) is credited with the try = 55-0 (this is Schor-Haskin’s third try in the first half).
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) misses his fourth straight CV (Ngonyamo is 5 for 9 on CVs).
- Score: LU 55-0.
(10) 38:29 A&M kicks off to LU:
- LU ends up losing possession of the ball to A&M on LU’s side of the field; however, LU’s defense is able to drive A&M backwards (and A&M effectively retreats back over the midfield line). Fortunately, LU commits a penalty and A&M kicks to touch down near the 22 meter line with the game clock at 40:10.
- At the line-out, A&M is unable to get the ball and LU takes possession. Apparently LU was not happy with their 55-0 lead and opts not to end the half. LU’s No. 2 (Muntanga) takes the ball almost 80 meters for another try (this is Muntanga’s third try of the first half).
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) breaks his streak of missed CVs and hits one from the corner, making the score 62-0 (Ngonyamo is 6 for 9 on CVs).
- Score: LU 62-0.
Half time: 62-0
As you can read, the first half was a tough one but I didn’t see any “quit” in the boys as they continued to play hard despite the bright lights of Life’s scoreboard.
LU had A&M on its heels for most of the first half. It was impressive watching LU’s ball carriers attack the Aggie defenders; as the LU ball carriers were very good at running into, and through, the tackle (often droving the defender backwards). For those of you who attended the game against BYU in January, you will be familiar with what I am talking about as the BYU ball carriers did the same thing (although they were not quite as aggressive as LU’s).
LU was also a couple steps ahead of A&M during the entire first half; they were technically sound and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. This allowed LU to play extremely fast which put (and kept) the Aggie defenders off-sides and always playing catch-up (running to get on-sides).
None of this is a criticism of A&M’s players, coaches, or their attempt. If I wasn’t clear before, I will say it again; I would rather the Aggies play and lose to the best teams in the country, as opposed to simply sitting back and playing an easier schedule due to fear or some other reason. The boys traveled to Georgia and did their best in taking on one of the best teams in the country on their home turf; and everyone should be proud of that.
Speaking of their home turf, LU’s field and facilities were pretty amazing, or at least, what I could see on t.v. was pretty amazing; and while LU’s rugby pitch is something to behold, it also represents what LU is willing to do and invest in order to fully support their rugby program. Further, it is a bit of an indictment on what Texas A&M is doing to support their own rugby club; a club that is wildly successful considering what the school actually does (or doesn’t do) to support it. I could go on about the disparities that exist across D1A college rugby today, but I will save that for another post, and use this post to re-cap the game itself.
The final score of the half by LU made it pretty clear that the Eagles had every intention of scoring 100 points or more.
While the Eagles did end up reaching their goal by games end (and then some); I hope they took notice that such a practice didn’t illicit any spiteful reaction from the Aggies. After all, Aggies don’t quit, they don’t ask for mercy, and they don’t want you to take your foot off the gas due to pity. If anything, the Aggies want nothing more than your best, as they can handle it.
I am fairly sure LU learned this lesson as the Aggies fought hard until the bitter end; and it is also quite evident that LU never let up and never took their foot off the gas (as they kept going strong, even when they were up 100-0 in the second half).
Speaking of the second half, here is how that went.
(11) 40:00 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 42:00 LU’s No. 12 (Nikey Roberts, Hawaii) recieves a Yellow Card (however, his absence from the field didn’t appear to slow LU down by much).
- 43:58 LU’s No. 8 (Schor-Haskin) = Try: 67-0 (this is Schor-Haskin’s fourth try of the game). LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) CV is good = 69-0 (Ngonyamo is 7 for 10 on CVs).
- Score: LU 69-0.
(12) 45:21 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 47:13 LU’s No. 16 (Sean Lenzsch, New Jersey) = Try: 74-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) CV is no good = 74-0 (Ngonyamo is 7 for 11 on CVs).
- Score: LU 74-0.
(13) 48:50 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 55:28 LU’s No. 21 (James Hoffman; not listed on the roster at LifeRunningEagles.com) = Try: 79-0.
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) CV is good = 81-0 (Ngonyamo is 8 for 12 on CVs).
- Score: LU 81-0.
(14) 57:00 A&M kicks off to LU:
- LU is still playing as if the game is tied 0-0; but to that point, A&M is also still playing like the game is close. However, LU is much more aggressive at the point of attack; as their tackles are just more aggressive and typically drive back the opposing ball carrier (which is a huge in-game advantage).
- Having said that, A&M gets possesion of the ball and works it down to about 10 meters from the goal line. Unfortuanately, A&M commits a penalty and possession of the balls goes to LU.
- 65:43 either LU’s No. 14 (Darell Williams) OR LU’s No. 11 (Julian Roberts, Hawaii) scored = Try 86-0 (I saw the player’s number on t.v. as No. 14 and believe the announcers called him “Williams;” however, the D1ARugby.com game recap states that it was No. 11 Julian Roberts).
- LU’s No. 10 (Ngonyamo) CV is no-good: 86-0 (Ngonyamo is 8 for 13 on CVs).
- Score: 86-0.
(15) 67:33 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 68:07 LU’s No. 18 (Travis Damoreon, Kentucky) = Try: 91-0.
- LU’s No. 22 (Jeron Pantor) CV is good = 93-0 (No. 22 Pantor is 1 for 1 on CVs, but LU as a team is 9 for 14; further, this is Pantor’s first attempted CV).
- Score: 93-0.
(16) 69:19 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 70:20 LU’s No. 16 (Lenzsch) = Try: 98-0 (No. 16 Lenzsch appeared to do a belly-flop over the goal line in order to score his try).
- No. 22 (Pantor) CV is good = 100-0 (No. 22 Pantor is 2 for 2 on CVs, and LU is 10 for 15 on CVs; I am not sure why No. 10 was pulled from kicking CVs other than the fact that he was 8 for 13 when he was pulled; but maybe it was simply give Pantor some work/practice).
- Score: LU 100-0.
(17) 71:50 A&M kicks off to LU:
- 74:48 LU’s No. 21 (Hoffman) = Try: 105-0 (second try of the game).
- LU’s No. 22 (Pantor) CV is good = 107-0 (No. 22 Pantor is 3 for 3 on CVs, and LU is 11 for 16 on CVs).
- Score: LU 107-0.
(18) 76:26 A&M kicks off to LU:
- LU is still playing very fast and hitting at full-steam.
- 79:44 LU’s No. 21 (Hoffman) = Try 112-0 (third try of the game).
- LU’s No. 22 (Pantor) CV is no good = 112-0 (No. 22 Pantor is 3 for 4 on CVs, and LU is 11 for 17 on CVs).
- Interesting Note: When Pantor’s final CV attempt was ruled “no good,” the announcers calling the game stated that it was “unfortunately missed.” I found that to be an interesting comment, and to be sure, I plan on going back to listen again and confirm it was said; however, if accurate, I guess the announcers were hoping that LU would add to the score?)
- Final Score: LU 112-0.
Final Time: 112-0
There was nothing A&M could do to stop the freight train that was Life U.
Prior to playing A&M, Life lost their February 15, 2020 game against No. 3 Arkansas State (Score: 22-29), and while Life bounced back and was able to defeat No. 5 Lindenwood (Score: 29-22) on February 22, that apparently didn’t satisfy the Eagles. One can only wonder if the score against A&M might not have gotten so “out of hand,” had Life not lost that game to Arkansas State, but we will never know.
If you remember, A&M played Clemson to open the season. Clemson is also in the Mid-South conference with Life, and Clemson is also currently ranked No. 24. I was hoping that the game versus the Tigers would have been some kind of indicator as to how A&M’s game with Life was going to go. Unfortunately, the game between Life and Clemson was canceled, so now we don’t have a common opponent in which to measure against.
In the end, there is no getting around it; this game was simply a beating. However, I really hope the Aggies don’t hang their heads over this one. I understand that this kind of loss will likely hurt for a while, but it was Life University after all, and they are known for their rugby success. However, while Life is one of the best teams in the country, and they definitely dealt with A&M today, the Aggies can move on from this game, learn some lessons, and focus on winning the RRRC. After all, a RRRC Championship would go a long way to helping forget this bad day in Georgia.