Illinois rugby scores first conference win

By Carly Kulenkamp

Illinois struck first, scoring on a try by senior Mario Lozano. The Hawkeyes quickly responded, scoring on a try of their own just five minutes after the Illini. Iowa’s scoring was short-lived as it wouldn’t score again until late in the second half. Lozano completed two more tries for the Illini and Illinois’ Justin Peebles had a hat trick, all in the second half.

Both players were humble about their high-scoring games.

“I attribute my scoring to the great play of our pack.” Lozano said. “Two of my tries came off of strong mauls led by John Heaney.”

This weekend marked the senior’s first tries of the season, a milestone that Lozano said makes the win even more special.

Hat tricks are a rare commodity in rugby, and for the second-year rugby player Peebles, this milestone was a first.

“The main reason I was able to score three times was due to my teammates creating space and moving the ball out to the wing quickly.” he said.

Peebles has recently switched positions from outside center to wing. This new position allows him to have more open space to run, another attribute that aids his scoring.

Illinois went into this matchup without Matt Ramsey, whose ACL injury sidelined him for the season. The team captain served as the team’s fly half — the “quarterback” of the team.

Freshman Joey Lincoln filled in for Ramsey at fly half.

Ramsey was also the primary kicker for the team. Lozano took over this responsibility for Illinois.

Even though it was a new job, Lozano said that kicking was not an unmanageable task because he has practiced place kicking in the past. He said he looks forward to having time to practice and perfect his kicking during this upcoming bye week.

Overall the team recognized a big improvement since its first game, a blowout loss to Indiana. Rich Daniels, the president of the club, said the team has showed tremendous improvement from the beginning of the year, especially on defense.

The Illini have a bye week this week but are immediately getting back to work in preparation for a home game with Minnesota on Oct. 17. The Golden Gophers have had a tough season so far, losing to Michigan State 65-5 and Wisconsin 88-0.

“(The team) will be using this bye week to our advantage by going to the gym and adding more conditioning to our practice schedule,” Peebles said.

Along with strength and conditioning, the Illini will be working on their defensive structure and resting to protect themselves from injury.

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