Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Geographic Union Championships Heat Up Race To Nationals
Regional Semifinals and Geographic Unions’ Championships all set the stage for an exciting weekend of teams and their attempts at qualification for the Club National Championship Series.
Empire Men’s Division II Championship: Buffalo Rugby vs. New York Rugby Club:
One of the most exciting matchups of the playoff season is here, with Buffalo Rugby and New York Rugby Club meeting in the championship match for the Empire Men’s Division II. Both teams have been historic fixtures in the Empire Geographic Union, however, neither has been able to parlay their local success into success on the national stage. This year both teams have a real shot at landing themselves a national championship. Unfortunately, only team will be able advance from the match.
Buffalo has quietly been getting stronger and stronger over the past few seasons and this year looks to have been the year where everything has clicked for them. The cohesion and the promise which they’ve demonstrated this year comes down to redifing the team’s culture according to coach, Stephen Caruana. “Rebuilding the culture of the club. We’ve been around since 1966, and we’ve had some great teams and playoff runs. Our defense has been really good. We’ve played some tough teams and every time we’ve been able to step up to the challenge and we hope to do it again against a tough New York side.”
New York Rugby Club, is having a special year of their own. After having just celebrated their 90th anniversary, they’ve taken the Empire playoffs by storm. Qualifying as the 5th seed, it would have been fair to assume they would not have been making a run this deep; however, they’ve proven themselves in the last two weeks to be a serious threat nationally. Part of their ability to make such a deep run has been the strength and depth they’ve developed. “We’ve got an incredible squad depth,” noted team captain Joe Blomfield. For the first time in my memory, we’ve been able to put out three full teams consistently.”
The regular season is usually a long and arduous period for a team, where the weekly trials and tribulations each squad faces helps them learn something new about themselves. The playoffs exponentially increase those learning moments. Both teams have learned invaluable lessons throughout their campaigns so far, but the most important lesson they’ve learned is ensure nothing is taken for granted. Caruana noted, they simply have to “Take it one game at a time.” Blomfield also mentioning, “[We] Don’t want to look too far past the next game.”
Both teams possess fly halves that are masters of their craft. However, they also possess back rowers that have proven themselves to be game changes. Caruana explaining “Back row guys have been doing really well. We have a new fly half this season, Luca Wrabetz, he’s made the ten spot his own this year. James Stewart our number eight has been a tackling machine, he must have made 20 tackles last weekend.”
Similarly, Blomfield sang the praises of his fly half and number eight as well. “Our Flyhalf Andrew Magowan has been a stand out for us, and we’ve had some strong forwards this year as well. Max Pats, went away for a while, but has just come back and he’s been superb.” He also noted the key presence of Keegan Dufty, who has been superb in the line outs.
Each team knows that the other presents a unique and challenging task on Saturday, but both feel comfortable in their knowledge of what will be thrown at them and how they’ll handle the challenges. Buffalo knows New York is not a club to be taken lightly, despite their 5th seeding, they also know to expect a strong backline. New York is expecting a strong defensive minded side. However, each believes if they can stick to their individual game plans, they will be able to survive the weekend.
Northern California Men’s Division II Championship Game: Santa Rosa Rugby vs. Olympic Club Rugby:
In their first year in division II, after having been in the Pacific Rugby Premiership and other variations of Division I rugby, the Olympic Club Rugby program has found its way into the Northern California Championship match against the number 1 seed, Santa Rosa. Both teams have had impressive seasons, Santa Rosa going 7-1 and the Olympic Club going 6-2. Despite their inferior record, the Olympic Club will be optimistic heading into the weekend; as in their prior encounter, the Olympic Club handed Santa Rosa their only loss of the season, 33-31. On that occasion, Santa Rosa seemed to have control of the match with as they held two separate ten point leads. However, two second half tries to Paul Saccomanno pulled Olympic back into the match. Saccomanno has been their danger man most of the year, along with Mark Bowers, the two of them combining for 24 tries on the season. Expect Olympic Club to get the ball in these two playmakers’ hands as often as possible. Santa Rosa has a 12 try scorer of their own in Joe Cakau. In their previous outing his impact was nullified, if Olympic want to repeat their prior efforts they will once again have to start with shutting Cakau down.
Mid-Atlantic Men’s Division II Playoffs: Old Gaelic Rugby vs. Philadelphia Whitemarsh Rugby:
Men’s Division II playoffs begin in earnest this weekend, and there are some tantalizing matchups right off the bat. What looks to be the pick of the bunch in the opening round, is Old Gaelic, the #2 seed, taking on Philadelphia Whitemarsh, the #3 seed. These two have met once before in the regular season, with Old Gaelic winning the nail-biter, 26-23. That game was somewhat bizarre, as the final points of the match were scored in the 49th minute. The match also saw Whitemarsh, squander a 13 point lead in the space of three minutes. One of the big differences between these two teams, is Old Gaelic’s ability to score points in a hurry and Philadelphia’s, comparatively, stagnant offense. However, Philadelphia Whitemarsh have proven capable of keeping Old Gaelic in check before, the key to winning this match will be doing it for the full eighty minutes. If Old Gaelic can establish a two more score lead in the early stages, chances are Philadelphia Whitemarsh will have a hard time playing catchup.
Author: Angus Bishop.