Rugby East begins play this weekend, as Kutztown travels to Delaware. The Golden Bears beat the Blue Hens 20-13 last season. Kutztown finished 4-2 in the league, and Delaware finished 2-4.
KU has had a slow start to the spring season thanks to weather. The Bears beat up on NYAC’s second side last weekend, and their only other hit-out was a controlled scrimmage with DIII Reading men’s club. But the lack of action has at least left everyone healthy, including Tim Acker and Niku Kruger, two talented backs who have struggled with injuries.
Niku will slot in at scrumhalf and Acker at fullback, with Devon Somma, who filled in at flyhalf while Acker was hurt last season, will wear No. 10.
“Somma distributes, and we get the ball wide real quick. Timmy strikes inside or outside of [outside center Bobby Stortz]. Timmy becomes the pivot or second flyhalf on the fly, and we play off of Timmy in space,” said KU coach Gregg Jones, “and it’s so far worked very well.”
While KU’s backline has plenty of firepower, the Golden Bear pack is bigger this year than last.
Caleb Tracey, a 6-6 former U20 second row is back with Kutztown following a stint in Australia. He and 6-7 Mike Lawrenson combine for a very tall second row. West Hartman, a new player from Johannesburg, South Africa, supplies size and experience at the back of the scrum. And Jamie Gregory anchors a more than capable front row.
“I do think we have the size this season, and I hate to say it, but I think this is the year we’ve been building towards the last three or four years,” said Jones.
“All these seniors now, we have five or six of them on the starting side, they work really hard. Up at NYAC, for the first time in the last couple of years, I actually saw the forward pack play with some aggression. They’re just very, very aggressive. I saw it through the whole 70-80 minutes.”
Gone from last semester is Duke Makina, the big, athletic flyhalf who turned a lot of heads at 7s Nationals. He's spending a semester back in his native South Africa, and is expected to return to KU in the fall.
Delaware has also gotten off to a slow start this spring, but not because of a lack of playing. The Blue Hens traveled to Life and took an 80-5 hiding earlier this spring and lost to DII juggernaut Salisbury last weekend. But, says Delaware head coach Bjorn Haglid, the preseason has been productive nonetheless.
“We learned so much from Life. We learned our weaknesses, we learned that we didn’t adapt as quickly as them changing their game plan,” he said.
“We learned that what we thought was a Life team being slow, it was really a team being methodical, thinking. It really made us evaluate not being so aggressive all the time and taking a breath and reevaluate the attack and to look at options more. They’re a good team, fun to play against.”
Delaware approaches league play differently than preseason play, much to the chagrin of Haglid. And Saturday the Blue Hens will have flyhalf Jimmy Kowalski on the field for the first time this spring.
“We play differently when we play Kutztown. We play differently when we play Army. We play differently when we play Penn State,” said Haglid.
“They’re college kids, and they look at things differently when it’s the meat and potatoes and when it’s just a game. I wish they would look at every game like it’s the last game. But they don’t. We’ll give Kutztown a real good run for their money. We’ll give them a very competitive game.”