Friday, September 19, 2014

Rivalry Weekend in Columbus: OSU v Michigan Preview

In life there are elements that just don't go together. Fire and water cannot coexist. Oil and water will never truly mix. As in science, so there are these types of relationships between sports teams. With oil and water it's called chemistry. With sports it's called a rivalry, and there are few that compare to the ongoing clash between Ohio State University and the University of Michigan. This Saturday, the OSU Women's Rugby team plays their part in keeping the University of Michigan down as the center piece in a big weekend of rugby.

The past encounters between the two clubs have seen the Buckeyes notching more big wins on their tally. According to Payne, OSU has fallen to the Michigan women in conference play but when they have played on the big stage the Buckeyes have always risen to the occasion.

Last year OSU took the fight to Michigan, but that was before they graduated a number of very talented players. Undaunted, Payne believes his current lineup is just as dangerous as last year's - if not more so. Since he has so much history with Michigan, he is anticipating a very forward-focused, hard-running Michigan attack. Payne believes the style of rugby his girls play will be enough to put them over the top on Saturday, though.

"Overall our game is about pressure," Payne said. "Pressure applied by a smothering defense to pressure from our ability to thrive in open play. Our team speed is fantastic, maybe the best I have ever had. Individual speed is great, but this team is learning to play as a single unit at a high pace."

Payne is planning on bringing a team of opportunists to take on Michigan. While it is early in the year and there are new players in the lineup, he has been teaching his players how to play Buckeye Rugby - that is rugby played in small units during open play to provide constant support to ball carriers.

Anyone who reads speed and pressure as back-centric terms would be doing themselves a disservice doing that when referring to the Buckeyes. According to Payne, the forwards are expected to contribute to the offensive and defensive pressures as well.

"Our forwards have begun emerging over the last two weeks," he said. "These new players are being asked to fill some large shoes and they are stepping up. The guiding principle of pressure is applied this year from our forwards is through a mentality of a ‘pack of flankers.’"

All the planning and preparation in the world doesn't count for much if you don't have talent to execute the plan. Fortunately, that's not an issue for the Buckeyes. Payne's main work horse is set to be Brie Rahrig, the OSU no. 8.

"As a sophomore, she already has the tools to dominate: size, strength and speed," Payne said. "As she matures, I predict she could become the dominant no. 8 in the US. She is already on the radar for both 15s and 7s."

She's not the only dangerous lady on the starting XV for Payne, though. Lakewood High School Products, Lexi and Jillian Getz are fast and intelligent rugby players. Jillian, a crossover athlete, came to rugby  as her rowing ended. She helped her rowing team take two National Championships, so she knows what it takes to win and, according to Payne, her work ethic has been infectious.

Though this rivalry intensifies any encounter between two sports teams from the two respective universities, the women's rugby teams use the aura around the event as a chance to do some good in the world - not just a chance to see who can come out on top once the game is over.

"We use the rivalry to garner attention to our two programs through philanthropic works," said Philip Payne, head coach of the OSU women's team. "If we can use the power of the rivalry to garner attention to needy charities then it's a positive rivalry."

The OSU-Michigan match is sure to be one filled with highlight-reel plays and intense pace. Surely, it is not one to be missed. The match kicks off at 5:30pm, following the Saint Joseph-Warsaw match, at the OSU rugby complex.

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