Elite Cup Outlook: Glendale

BOULDER, Colo. - Belmont Shore may have taken the USA Rugby Division I Club Championship from fellow finalists Glendale Raptors last June, but the Elite Cup offers a new opportunity to succeed for Andre Snyman's Raptors.

Snyman, a former South African Springbok, led the Raptors to the 2011 Division I Championship after taking the head-coaching job that June. Despite the 2012 setback, Glendale will participate in the eight-team Elite Cup this spring as the only club not to participate in the Rugby Super League in the past.

"I think the Elite Cup offers players the opportunity to play against other quality players across the country and measure themselves against each other," Snyman said. "There might be a player in the USA team playing against your average club player, and that gives the DI player a chance to compare himself."

Glendale will open the competition on March 16 away to in-state rivals Denver Barbarians. The Barbarians defeated Glendale 29-26 last November in a Division I match, the last time the two met. While Glendale might be looking for revenge against Denver, each of the three Elite Cup matches before the playoffs is important.

"I wouldn't say we're looking forward to any certain opponent," Snyman said. "We as a team are looking forward to the tournament and playing the best rugby we can against quality teams."

While the USA Rugby Men's Eagles Sevens have viral crossover athlete Carlin Isles on their roster, Snyman has his own. Zac Pauga, a flanker, played for the National Football League's Houston Texans before making the jump to rugby.

"Zac is an awesome athlete and is a true example that the crossover is possible," Pauga's coach said. "He is a great player and, with time, will be Eagle quality. He's still learning the game and improving his skill. As we all know, the dynamics of rugby is not the same as football, but being a great athlete does make it easier to cross over. I'm excited about his development and growth, and can't wait to see him perform in the Elite Cup.

"The Elite Cup is also a chance where strength meets strength and the top players will be there. It also gives the USA coaches the chance to see new talent out there."

Glendale still has plenty of weapons, too. A club one year removed from a Finals appearance and two from a championship cannot be short on talent, and Glendale will look to prove it in the Elite Cup.

"I think we have a few players that can make a difference or swing the game," Snyman said. "We have players like Ata Malifa, Nic Johnson, Shaun Davies, Zach Fenaglio, and James Paterson. Then we have great players like DeWon Reed, Mike Kenyon, Zac Pauga, Cassey Rock and Max Statler that can play at a high level and make an impact."

The Elite Cup is another avenue for fans to follow the game of rugby in the United States outside of the normal club competition. With rugby - the sevens format - back in the Olympic program beginning in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, rugby can only grow.

"I think the Olympic hype is awesome and will be good for the sport of rugby in sevens and 15s," Snyman said. "It will put our sport on the map and more people will be able to watch it on television. That is what rugby needs at the moment: eyeballs and explaining the game to the public.

"If it means we start with sevens and then the overflow will reach 15s, I will be happy."

Glendale will host Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach, the runner-up in the 2012 RSL Final, in the only home game at Infinity Park in Rugbytown USA during the Elite Cup on April 6. Glendale will then face San Francisco Golden Gate a week later in the Golden State.

For the full Elite Cup Schedule please visit the Elite Cup page.