Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Top Teams Clash

With many regions around the country returning to action this weekend, there are some massive games with even bigger playoff implications taking place.

Mid-America Men’s Division II North: Wichita Barbarians vs. St. Louis Royals:

Two of the most formidable teams in the country will try to keep their perfect seasons alive, when the Wichita Barbarians welcome the St. Louis Royals into town. Both teams enter the encounter with a perfect record. For the Barbarians, they are a top the division with a 3-0 record and 15 competition points; while the Royals have a 2-0 record and are sitting at second with nine competition points. While this is the first of two legs, the winner will undoubtedly have the upper hand; while the loser, is left playing catchup.

Last year was a tremendous success for the Royals. They played their first season in Division II, after having won the Division III National Championships, just months earlier. Off the back of their impressive performances in Division III, they were able to slot into Division II immediately and contend for the division. Eventually they fell in the Frontier Championship, to the National Champions, Denver Barbarians. When asked about the team’s make up this year, Royals coach Steve McKinstry was quick to voice his belief in the squad, stating consistency has been their reasons for success, “We’re a team that’s been playing together now for three years. Some have come and some have gone, but the core has remained. We’ve been working in our systems throughout the time.” McKinstry also adding he believes this team is on the same track as last year’s, “We’ve lost some key players, the team make up is a little different; but the quality and experience is the same.”

Their opponents this weekend, are a near spitting image of them 12 months ago. The Barbarians are currently enjoying their first year in Division II, after being the top team for several years in Division III. Any qualms about moving up a division seem to have been squashed as they have not missed a beat climbing back up the to the top of the heap. In their three games, from the fall, they have completely dominated their opponents, never failing to score less than 40 points per contest.

Going into the weekend it will take a team performance from both sides if they are to walk away with the win. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some key players that the team will be relying on to help them get over the line. For the Royals, that player is their flyhalf, Lungi Tshuma. McKinstry explaining Tshuma’s ability to direct traffic will be one of, if not the biggest , reasons behind any success they may enjoy. “We’ll really be looking for Lungi to take control of the field from the 10 position.” McKinstry also noted they will need to see some major support efforts coming from those in the back three, providing attacking options, and the loose forwards to carry the ball forward with intent and work in and around the breakdown.

For the Barbarians, it’s going to be a similar story, they will be looking to the team as a whole, rather than just one individual, to help carry the team over the line. Two of the players they will be looking to, are Dustin Fross and Stephen Wright. Both of these players come with a wealth of experience and play critical roles. Fross fills in at inside center and Wright at Fullback. Both players have the ability to manage the game with tremendous efficiency and the capability to break a game wide open when they please. They will be central to Wichita’s efforts over the weekend.

This game will likely come down to a few key moments. Whether it is decisive line break, an errant pass or a moment of ill-discipline. The Royals are acutely aware of this and have focused on two key areas in their game to avoid being on the wrong end of the decisive moment. They will be looking to their defense to get up in Wichita’s face quickly and try to channel the attack around them, rather than giving up the middle of the field; and they will also look to execute at the set piece. For the Barbarians, their main focus will need to be on their defense. While they have a terrific attacking structure, their defense can be lacking at times; and it only take a few seconds or minutes of being switched off mentally, for the Royals to pounce. Expect this game to be critical to the national playoff picture.   


Northern California Women’s Division II: Sacramento Amazons vs. Berkeley All Blues D2:

On Saturday, the Sacramento Amazons and the Berkeley All Blues D2 will square off in a contest which will likely determine the competition winner for the year. The Amazons currently sit atop of the ladder at 3-0 and a perfect 15 competition points; while the All Blues D2 are 2-1 with their only loss coming against the Amazons, back in Feburary. The last time these two squads met it was a barn burner, with the Amazons holding off a late surge from the All Blues D2 to win, 44-38. On that occasion, as has been the case every game this year, the stand out for the Amazons was their outside center, Ofolangi Mailangi. The blister back, has crossed for 13 tries in only three games- including four against the All Blues in their last game. The key for Berkeley will be to nullify the Amazons from getting the ball into Mailangi’s hands. For the Amazons, their key will be to concentrate for the full 80. Last time out the escaped to an early 39-0 point lead but then allowed the All Blues back into the match through 31 unanswered points. If they want to win this game, and essentially the competition, they’ll have to remain focused, even if they do create a massive first half lead.


Pacific Rugby Premiership: Santa Monica Dolphins vs. Life West Gladiators:

The two top teams in the Pacific Rugby Premiership will cross paths  on the weekend for the first time all year. The visitors, Life West Gladiatiors, own sole possession of first place with a 3-1 record and 16 competition points; while the hosts, Santa Monica Dolphins, own a 3-1 record of their own and 14 competition points. The Gladiators enter the fixture off the back of their first loss of the season, and the first game in which they were unable to score at least 25 points. They will be tested once again this weekend when they face the league’s stingiest defense, in Santa Monica. This game is far from deciding the PRP’s winner,  but if Life West can claim a win or a bonus point win, they will have put themselves in the driver’s seat for the rest of the season. With a big win this weekend, they potentially could move ahead by 8 points from their nearest competition. It’s a tough game to predict, as each team has their own style of play. The Gladiators sling it wide and keep ball in hand; while the Dolphins prefer to use the boot. Whichever team can control the tempo will win the match.


Northern California Men’s Division II: Life West Gladiators D2 vs. Santa Rosa Rugby:  

Number one takes on number three, as the third placed Life West Gladiators D2 host, top of the table, Santa Rosa Rugby. Santa Rosa has been in fierce form all year, as they are 6-0 and have taken a perfect 30 points away from their contests. Last round they proved they are able to win the close battles too, after holding off a resurgent Diablo Olde Gaels side. This weekend they will have to face a Life West D2 side who are making up for an opening round loss with a vengeance. Since losing by four points in the first game of the season, the Gladiators have gone on to win their next three by at least 13 points. It will be interesting to see if the Gladiator’s form continues and whether or not Santa Rosa’s close call last game was a blip or whether it was a sign of more concerning things to come.


Southern California Women’s Division III: Northern Arizona LadySharks vs. Fullerton Wolfpack:

A rematch is in the cards, when the Fullerton Wolfpack travel to Northern Arizona to take on the LadySharks. Last time these two teams met it was a one-sided affair, as the Wolfpack devoured the LadySharks 36-5. This week as they travel the story could be different, as the LadySharks will be playing at home for the first time all season. The road hasn’t been kind to Northern Arizona so far this season, but they’ll be hoping their home comforts help get them back on the right path. If they are to right the ship, they will need to shutdown Fullerton’s fullback Cynthia Huynh. Huynh has been unstoppable all year, crossing for a team leading nine tries. The LadySharks will need to focus on their kicking game and the offensive structure of the Wolfpack so they can keep tabs on where Huynh is at all times.

Mid-Atlantic Men’s Division I: Norfolk Blues vs. Baltimore Chesapeake Brumbies:

After the only game in the Mid-Atlantic was canceled last weekend due to weather, the Norfolk Blues and Baltimore Chesapeake Brumbies will help usher in the spring season. The Brumbies had a Fall to forget, going 2-5; while Norfolk went 4-0-1 and are primed to plunge after the South title. Despite only playing five games so far this season, they are only five points behind southern leaders, Potomac Exiles, who have played nine games. Norfolk will be confident in their chances and a win here will prime them nicely for the remainder of the Spring season. They will have to be wary of Baltimore fly-half, Eric Sweeny’s boot. Sweeny hits the ball off the kicking-tee sweetly and if there is any ill-discipline from the Blues inside their own half, expect the Brumbies to make them pay. If Norfolk can avoid errors, and penalties, they should be able to handle their competition this weekend.