FIU rugby en route to National Championship

By Veronika Quispe/Staff Writer

The FIU men’s rugby team came one step closer to the national championship as they defeated Florida State 29-19 on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.

This game determined whether or not FIU stayed in the conference play. Since FIU won, it was awarded three extra points that secured its number three spot in the conference.  University of Central Florida leads with 13 points followed by Florida State University with 12 and FIU with ten.

“It was a big win for us, we had a lot on the line. It was ecstatic, everyone knew how much this game meant to us, it was a win or go home,” Team Captain Kyle Gilbert said.

Agustin Laphitzondo was awarded Player of the Game after scoring three tries.

FIU had lost to FSU earlier in the season 33-10. However, this time the Panthers came back strong and with new strategies.

“The same people started but they started in different positions, we reviewed the tapes and we figured out what was best for everyone and clearly it worked,” Gilbert said.

Last game against the Seminoles, the Panthers were forced to travel without their full team.

“This time our forwards and backs came together for strong plays. Last time we played them they didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves. We didn’t play our best,” Gilbert said.

A big issue FIU had in the past was weak backs. Thanks to junior George Evora they were able to strengthen their backs and create better strategies for a win.

“George opens up a whole other level. That really helped us a lot,” Gilbert said.

The South Independent Rugby Conference Championship weekend hosts the best two teams from the south and the best two teams in the north to play in a tournament style bracket.

“You’re fighting for a bid for the National Championship,” Gilbert said.

This season the Panthers are hungry for a National Championship. Some freshmen have gained experience from last season that has helped them put FIU at number three.  Practices have been stricter and training is at a more serious note.

Freshman Barrington Mcnutt started in the fall and proved to be a strong asset to the team.

“Well now it’s different starting with the fact that I know how to play the game.  Some of us started with a rough idea on how to play and that reflected in games,” Mcnutt said.

Earlier in the season FIU defeated, the number four seed, University of South Florida 41-24.

“We usually have a good game against USF because we always use the same strategy. We put on a lot of the stuff they can’t cover, such as our forwards,” Gilbert said.

FIU now enters a three-week rest.

“We scheduled these three weeks on purpose so everyone can feel healthy and well practiced, and we want to beat USF in high numbers.  We’re trying to work on our mauls and our backs for all future games,” Gilbert said.

All eyes are on UCF for chance at the championship. The Panthers will be practicing a new strategy called a rolling maul, which is uncommon in college plays.

“This play is very technical and we tried it against FSU and it worked very well, so we’ll continue working on it,” Gilbert said. “Our forwards are going to work on line outs.”

The Panthers’ motto of ‘controlling their own destiny’ has kept them going for yet another strong season. “It’s all about a championship now, Florida isn’t even a predominant rugby state so the fact that we have a chance to compete at national level is pretty cool,” Gilbert said.

FIU plays USF on March 22 in Tampa and UCF on March 29 at 2 p.m.


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