2019 Club National Championship Recap

After a grueling regular season and some tough post season play, ten teams remained heading into the final weekend of the Club XVs calendar. Five national championships were on offer and teams fought tooth and nail for the chance at gaining a slice of history.

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Men’s Division I: Austin Blacks vs. Life Running Eagles:

In a game filled with emotions, the Life Running Eagles and the Austin Blacks entered Saturday’s fixture with the hopes of being National Champions. The teams traded penalty attempts early, with Austin missing their first but Life connecting, through Sam Cowley, in the 18th minute. Cowley’s three points helped ignite the Life attack and saw them create a 10-0 buffer in the space of 5 minutes. Two consecutive penalties saw the Blacks sneak back into the thick of it. But Cowley, as he did all game, looked to have stamped out the Blacks’ momentum heading into the half with a brilliant individual effort. However, on the stroke of halftime a penalty try was awarded to Austin, and with 40 minutes remaining Life’s lead had been cut to four, 17-13.

The first ten minutes of the second half belonged to Life, as they continued to pour on the points, adding eight to their lead. Just as the game looked to be out of Austin’s reach, the Blacks scored two tries in eight minutes to take their first lead of the game, 27-25. With 15 minutes remaining, the Blacks looked to be in full control. The teams went back and forth for the remaining moments, each looking to find a score of their own. After sustained phase play, Life was eventually rewarded with a penalty shot with hardly any time left. Cowley calmly knocked it through and took the one-point lead. After regathering the restart, the Running Eagles held onto the ball and the lead, to claim the 2019 USA Rugby Club Men’s Division I National Championship.  

 

Women’s Division I: Austin Valkyries vs. Northern Virginia Rugby:

Both teams entered this weekend eager for their first Division I national championship in team history, but they knew it wouldn’t come easy. The two teams went back and forth for the entire eighty minutes. Northern Virginia came out strong to start, scoring the first points of the game, only three minutes into the fixture. However, the rest of half, seemingly, belonged to the Austin Valkyries. The Valkyries went on to score the next 12 points and looked to have NOVA right where they wanted them. However, a brilliant backline move from a set piece saw Stephanie Barros claim her second of the night. After 40, the two sides were locked up, 12-12.

The second half saw a relatively quiet start, with both teams probing for points but unable to get through impenetrable defense. Eventually, the first points came off the boot of Austin’s Jordan Ynostrosa, 11 minutes into the second half. As they had done so well all year, NOVA came from behind and took the game by the scruff of the neck. Scoring two tries in just over ten minutes, NOVA ran out to a 9-point lead. Brianna Kim landing a massive conversion to put them up by more than a single score. Austin tried valiantly in attack to get the game back in their favor, but NOVA were just as brave in defense. In stoppage time Austin finally cracked the defense for a well-deserved try but it was too little too late and NOVA had their hands on the national championship.

 

Men’s Division II: Olympic Club vs. Atlanta Old White:

Heading into the game, this looked like it had the potential to be the highest scoring matchup of the weekend. While it did not see the high octane scoreline expected, it certainly provided plenty of entertainment. Atlanta Old White came out of the gates firing and looked to have Olympic on their back heels early. However, while they created plenty of opportunities, whether they were shots at goal, or line breaks, the final execution was just not there and points were left off the scoreboard.  Olympic Club had their flashes of brilliance too, but sloppy handling let them down and kept them off the scoreboard. The deadlock was broken in the 31st minute when some slick hands and some electrifying speed from Samuel Ngethe saw Old White get a 7-0 lead, with 10 minutes left in the half.

When play resumed in the second half, it seemed like Olympic had made some adjustments, notably around the pack. What had been a strong point for Olympic most of the season, their forward play, began to shine through in the second half. Getting go forward from the scrums, mauls and pick and goes, became the main point of attack for Olympic, and Atlanta didn’t have an answer. Eventually the forwards earned Olympic their first points of the game and the of the second half, through earning a penalty try from a scrum. Old White responded immediately and three minutes later had a three point lead. However, unable to handle Olympic’s ensuing kickoff, they were back on the defensive and scrambling. Olympic seized their opportunity. Deservedly, Stephen Salimi,  the spearhead of the forwards domination, scored the go ahead try. A missed conversion left for a tense final 15 minutes where the game was truly in the balance. But, as had been the case all day, defenses were firm and Olympic held on for the win.  

 

Women’s Division II: Sacramento Amazons vs. Harrisburg Rugby
The Sacramento Amazons and Harrisburg Rugby played out the most exciting game of the weekend. Heading into the game, both sides were proven to be prolific scorers. Harrisburg looked to have the speed, but Sacramento looked to have the size. Early on it looked as though size would have it over speed. The Amazons got out to an quick lead and after only 24 minutes were up 22-0. Harrisburg got on the board a couple of minutes later and looked to have the game back within reaching distance, trailing, 22-7. However, two more tries to the Amazons saw their lead blow out to 34-7 at the half.

Harrisburg, seemingly, would have to score first in the second half to get back into the game. Sacramento had different thoughts on the matter, adding seven points to their lead. Harrisburg got on the board next, through some smart running. Any sense of momentum was snuffed out shortly after, as Sacramento again used their size and strength to find their way through the defensive line.  With only 24 minutes remaining, Harrisburg needed 35 points in order to claim the title. Stout defense made an already tough task borderline impossible. But the Amazons, all season, had struggled to close games out and once again the nasty habit reared its head. Entering the final 13 minutes, the Amazons looked to have the game wrapped up, but fatigue setting in and a Harrisburg try in the 67th minute seemed to cause a leak in the Sacramento defensive structure. Two yellow cards in three minutes didn’t help the Amazons attempt to close the match out. Harrisburg went on a massive 26-0 run in the space of 12 minutes, and with three minutes left, Harrisburg only trailed by eight. Sacramento, regathered and after a dominant scrum, which they won against the feed, they found some space on the outside to exploit and seal the national title.  

 

Men’s Division III: Austin Blacks D3 vs. Grand Rapids Gazelles:

The only team returning to the National Championships from 2018 were the Austin Blacks D3. Taking the field the day after the Division I squad’s heart breaking loss and looking to defend their title, there seemed to be a quiet determination surrounding the team. The determination showed early as they motored out to a 12-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes. However, Grand Rapids sensing the game getting out of control quickly pounced on a loose ball and got themselves right back into the contest, 12-7. Despite the jolting try from the Gazelles, Austin remained unfazed and added an another two tries to their total before the end of the half. With 40 minutes played, the Blacks D3 held a 24-7 lead.

The second half picked up where the first left off, Austin only taking 4 minutes before adding to their lead. Grand Rapids again sensing the game getting away from them, pulled it back a bit with a  sharply executed backline move. With just over 25 remaining the Gazelles were down 31-12. That would be the closest the Gazelles got, as the Blacks went from strength to strength in the final quarter and added an additional 17 points to their total in the final 20. Austin defending their title in style, 48-12.