Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Top Teams in Top Divisions Take the Field

It's a big week across the top divisions of play with some of the biggest names in club rugby taking the pitch. There are also a lot of clubs with opportunities to extend their lead over their competition.

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Red River Men’s Division I: Austin Blacks vs. Dallas Rugby:

What has quickly become one of, if not the best, rivalries in Division I rugby over the past few years is set for another edition this weekend; as the Austin Blacks take on Dallas Rugby. While blowing through the rest of the competition, these two teams have been locked in tight tussles and the winner of the division often comes down to the winner of their series. This year the story looks to be playing out exactly the same and each team knows the importance of striking first blood in the season series.

“We know them pretty well and they know us pretty well,” started the Blacks’ head coach Tane Jericevich. “Every year the games could have gone either way. We are confident, in terms of out preparation so far, having won four from four; but we’re expecting a very good game from them.” The four from four Jericevich mentioned gives plenty of cause to be confident. In their opening quartet matches, they have a scored a whopping 360 points and only let in six.

The Reds’ start isn’t too far behind the Blacks. In their opening trio of games they have scored 204 points, but have been looser in defense letting 50 points up on the board. A lot of the success the Reds enjoy comes from their 10,11,12 trio of Blake Boulton, Darrien Pipkins, and Jake Campey. Between the three of them, they have been responsible for 149 of the Reds’ points. Their tactics for the weekend will be pretty clear- get the ball into their hands as often as possible and ensure the ball to them is quick and clean.

Rampaging through their competition so early on, could be a cause of concern for some, as neither team has had to deal with, or overcome any real challenges to them. However, Jericevich does not see it this way and knows his men will be up to the challenge when the opening whistle blows on Saturday. Jericevich notes, “Our focus is never really on the other teams… its on ourselves and improving ourselves. With that focus and that mind set- we’ve managed put up those big score lines. We don’t get to 30 points up and sit back we improve and make sure we are firing on all cylinders. That preparation and mindset will hold us in good stead come a harder and tougher opposition like the Reds.”

Similarly, the Reds have made it a habit to put their foot down when they get a lead. While, they have let in more points than the Blacks, the Reds always have the last say and will often close out the last 20 minutes of a game in a more impressive fashion than they played the first 60. Strong depth from 1-23 on the field are, in large part, responsible for their ability to surge late in the game.

Depth and an abundance of talent are two things that the Blacks have in droves. While they have a some outstanding individuals on their squad, Jericevich believes the team is greater than sum of its parts. “Everybody has an important role to play in our system. I wouldn’t single anyone out and that it’s a real team effort. Without one person performing, the whole team falls apart.”

The match will be hosted at their historic Burr Field, which is one of the most intimidating places to play in the country. While the Blacks are happy to be enjoying the home comforts, they aren’t taking their win loss record at home as anything more than a statistic. “History will tell you we’ve won all of our games against the Reds at Burr Field”, said Jericevich. “We haven’t actually won in Dallas in three years now. Based on the statistics you’d say it is easier for us to win at Burr, but at the end of the day the fields are all the same size.”

These games, despite both teams propensity to score in large doses, have a tendency to be low scoring (comparative to the other games they play in the season); as the defensive efforts on both get raised significantly. With that being said, there will be an expectation for explosive offenses and dazzling backline displays as well. While, that might be what grabs the attention, what will likely win the game for either team is the work put in around the breakdowns and set pieces. With both teams possessing strong backlines whichever pack is able to impede the attacking flow of their opposition with the most success, will probably find themselves on top at the end of the game.

 

Major League Rugby: NOLA Gold vs. Rugby United New York:

Year two of major league rugby is underway and one of the biggest surprises of the year has been the turnaround of the NOLA Gold. Last year the Gold showed signs of their potential but were marred with injuries and never reached their best form, ultimately failing to make the playoffs. This year a busy offseason, highlighted extensive signings has led them to take their 3-0 record to the top of the table. Their perfect season will face a real threat this weekend, as they welcome new comers Rugby United New York (RUNY) to the bayou. RUNY, on the back of impressive signings of both coaches and players, put themselves at the top of many pundits’ lists for 2019 champions. They won an impressive MLR debut against San Diego in the first round of the season, but since then they have had a bye for two consecutive weeks. RUNY will face a stiff challenge coming in a little bit rusty, against a team that has been firing on all cylinders and seemingly going from strength to strength each week; but they have the talent and the skill to keep pace with the Gold. Expect this game to be played at a blistering pace with scoring coming consistently on both sides.

 

Arizona Men’s Division III: Tucson Magpies vs. Old Pueblo Lions:

Down in the Copper State, the table leading Tucson Magpies play host to the Old Pueblo Lions, who are currently nipping at their heels in the ladder. Sitting at 2-1, the Magpies have had a season filled with more ups than downs. Their wins have been impressive and by vast margins scoring over 40 points in each win; however, they lost in heart breaking fashion to the Las Vegas Irish D3 after a last minute conversion sailed over the uprights, 30-29. What made the loss tough to stomach, other than the last minute nature, was the Magpies led by 12 at points in the game. If they are to be successful this weekend, they’ll need to be switched on for the full 80. Old Pueblo, conversely to the Magpies, are a team who have been trying to find consistency all year. They currently sit at 2-2, but despite the .500 record, they are only one point behind the Magpies. Their key to success this weekend, and finding consistency, will be pretty simple- get the ball in the hands of Jared Varner and Joshua Brand. These two have proven themselves to be troublesome to defenders, with a combined 7 tries on the year. If these two are shut down, so too is the Lions’ attack. The Magpies will be keen to avoid any lapses in concentration that will see them crack the line.   

 

Carolinas-Georgia Senior Men’s Division II: Atlanta Old White vs. Life Running Eagles D2:

The top two teams will face each other in the Carolinas-Georgia competition, when Atlanta Old White host the return leg of their fixture against Life’s Running Eagles D2 squad. 2018-19 has been a far cry from 2017-18 for Old White, where they only won less than 40% of their games. This year they have seen an about turn and currently already have three wins, but only one loss. It has been a team effort, with seven players scoring at least twice and 13 of their players scoring at least once. With this cohesiveness, it will be tough to find ways of shutting them down. However, if there is a team to do it- it will be the Life Running Eagles D2 squad. Two games into the season, the Running Eagles are sitting in prime position, with a 2-0 record. They’ve been dominant in their wins too, with their smallest margin of victory being 22 points. Old White will have their work cut out for them, but playing at home could play nicely into their hands and be a determining factor in the outcome of the game.

 

Pacific Rugby Premiership: Belmont Shore Rugby vs. Santa Monica Dolphins

After taking a week off, the Pacific Rugby Premiership is back and the defending champions are set to take on one of the biggest surprises of the year, the Santa Monica Dolphins. 2018 was a year to remember for Belmont Shore as they won the PRP, in its first year back and made it all the way to the National Championship. However, 2019 hasn’t been as kind to the men from Southern California and they are currently stuck in the middle of the ladder, at 1-1. The good news is the season is still young and they aren’t too far behind in the chase for the title; however they will face a stiff test weekend. Santa Monica were a team full of potential last year, but it didn’t seem to click. This year they seem to have finally got things going. Their turnaround has come is large part due to the play of their standout flyhalf- Maxwell Rodman and Outside Center Jone Koronisigana both of whom have been the focal points of the Dolphins attack. Look for the Dolphins to try and exploit the middle of the field using Koronisigana as the major threat before spinning it wide and putting it in the finishing hands of their wings. It should be a top class match between two of the best men’s division I teams in the country.

 

Northern California Men’s Division III-B: San Francisco Golden Gate D3 vs. Diablo Olde Gael D3:

In Northern California, the Diablo Olde Gaels D3 will travel across the bay to face off with league leading, San Francisco Golden Gate D3. SFGG D3 have been immense in their two showings this year, averaging 50 points a match. They have been bolstered by the likes of their loose head prop, Nino Tamburello and wing, Aaron Rambo. Each of these players has started the season off on fire, scoring three and five tries respectively. SFGG will be looking to use their hard running forwards to create gaps for their speedy backs to exploit and score early and often. For the Olde Gaels D3, they had a opening day to forget, losing by 53 to the San Jose Seahawks D3 side. They made up for it, however, the following week when they beat the San Francisco Fog by a similar margin of, 54 points. They’ll be searching for sustained stability this weekend, both in the game and for their season. If the Olde Gaels can turn out in a similar fashion to their second round performance it promises to be a great match. If they don’t, it could be another long day at the office for them.