The Runner Sports

USA Club Rugby Report: Playoff Preview – US Club Rugby’s Great Eight Square-Off

The great eight of USA Club Rugby have made their way through a sea of contenders to meet on the battlefields of Founders Field and the Keno Sports Complex. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, aside from Lord Stanley’s Cup, a USA Club Rugby National Championship is the most difficult trophy to hoist in North America. The gauntlet of back-to-back 80 minute slogs through the blood and mud of snow-covered or sun-baked pitches these great eight have emerged with a chance to move on to the round of four, one step closer to glory.

The Nationals are here and The Runner Sports should be your source for knowledgeable and comprehensive coverage of our rugby nation’s club playoffs.

East Region at Founders Field – Pittsburgh, PA

Men’s DI:

Rocky Gorge vs Chicago Lions

These two teams came to this point following very different paths. Rocky Gorge rolled through their season with only a single blemish, a 34-point stumble against last-place Wilmington where Rocky Gorge fielded their b-side. The Chicago Lions, amid rumors of joining Major League Rugby, stumbled out of the gate but after a 1-0-3 start the Lions roared through six straight victories and won 10 of their final 11 matches. These two sides will square off fielding extremely talented ruggers. Rocky Gorge with the multi-talented Ben and Matias Cima, hooker Matthew Carroll, no. 8 Josh Brown, and fullback Nick Kuhl. Chicago’s squad is equally impressive as fly-half J.P. Eloff, fullback Robert Stortz, prop Frederik De Beer, and winger Brian Rooney look to match Rocky Gorge on the pitch.

The Lions boast a powerful forward pack while Rocky Gorge has a stable of talented backs making this a matchup of power versus speed. Chicago’s defense was solid against a formidable Columbus offense in last week’s 33-20 win over the conference champions. Weather conditions are likely to favor Rocky Gorge, whose speed and skill may slightly outshine Chicago.

 

New York Athletic Club (NYAC) vs Mystic River

This battle of American Rugby Premiership Titans should be a fantastic matchup. Defending Champion Mystic River has not had a stellar year while NYAC has steamrolled opposition but the May 6 loss against Old Blue showed some cracks Mystic River can exploit. Gaps in NYAC’s defense look vulnerable to Josh Smith’s multi-faceted attacking approach. Additionally, Mystic River played a solid match in a 22-16 loss to Glendale, demonstrating a formidable defense that held the Raptors’ explosive offense in check for most of the match. Confidence is on Mystic River’s side despite not yet beating NYAC this season. In my mind, Mystic River is the favorite and this is their match to lose.

 

Other East Region Playoff Matches:

DI Women:

Chicago North Shore vs Northern Virginia Rugby.

Raleigh Venom vs Beantown.

DII Men:

Detroit Tradesmen vs Washington Irish.

Life University vs Morris Lions.

DII Women:

Milwaukee Scylla vs Harrisburg.

Fort Miami vs Providence Rugby.

DIII Men:

Bremer County Bucks vs Lehigh Valley Hooligans.

Southern Pines vs Saratoga Rugby.

West Region at Kino Sports Complex – Tucson, AZ

Men’s DI:

San Francisco Golden Gate vs Austin Huns

If you follow rugby, even a little bit, you know who SFGG and the Huns are. Two squads with a vast number of Eagles and skilled players who could be; their rosters read like a who’s who for club rugby in the US. Players like big men Dominic Lolohea, Patrick Latu, Brendan Daly, Langilangi Haupeakui, as well as backs Colby Stevens, Volney Rouse, Fatai Vailala, and Lemoto Filikitonga. Austin is just as stacked boasting a corral of forwards like Timothy Fitzgerald, Robert Drummond, Peter Malcolm, Troy Spencer, Hanco Germishuys, and a stable of high-octane backs like Timothee Guilimin, Martin Knoetze, Andrew Heller, Aaron Boan, Justin Hale, and Deon Minnaar. I could have listed both rosters in their entirety, the collection of talent on display will be breathtaking.

Both squads have balance on defense as well as attack; while each likes to hold the ball they are equally skilled at the tactical kick and whoever dominates the territory will conversely control the match. Don’t rule out the quick strike ability of both but territory control will be key. Austin will likely be favored and when matched side by side with SFGG they have the edge in nearly every category no matter how slight. If you watch only one match this weekend make it this one because you are in for a show.

 

Belmont Shore vs Life West Gladiators

Two perennial Pacific powerhouses square off in this highly anticipated clash between Pacific South and Pacific North. These two clubs are among the best in the nation and are evenly matched at multiple positions. Both have opportunistic forwards known to fall over the try line and skilled backs but the edge in speed appears on Belmont Shore’s side. Belmont Shore’s power game appears more refined as well giving them a further advantage in terms of attack options. I anticipate a high scoring, well-coordinated, and hard-hitting match with highlight-reel action. If Belmont Shore’s speed attack gets loose with the ball, expect Life West to capitalize.

 

Other playoff matches this weekend:

DI Women:

Life West Gladiatrix vs Austin Valkyries.

Tempe Ninjas vs Utah Vipers.

DII Men:

St. Louis Bombers vs Ventura County Outlaws.

Little Rock Stormers vs Sacramento Blackhawks.

DII Women:

San Francisco Golden Gate vs Houston Athletic.

Old Pueblo Lightning vs St. Louis Sabers.

DIII Men:

Chico Mighty Oaks vs San Marcos Greys.

St. Louis Royals vs Orange County Ravens.

 

Let me know your comments and any first-hand accounts of the matches in the section below or tweet them @TheRunnerSports or to @rugbynation_USA but be sure to keep following The Runner Sports as we keep you up to date with comprehensive USAR club action!