Emirates Airline Men’s National Club Championship Semifinals recap

GLENDALE, Colo. – After last weekend’s inaugural Elite Cup Final, Glendale’s Infinity Park hosted the Semifinals of the 2013 Emirates Airline Men’s Division I, Division II and Division III National Club Championships Saturday. All three Finals from Glendale will be streamed live on USA Rugby TV Sunday starting at 11:00 A.M. MT.

Belmont Shore and Old Blue took to the field first in the Division III Semifinal, with Old Blue advancing courtesy of a 26-21 win. Though they dominated play in the opening half, Old Blue found themselves in penalty trouble and in a tie game, 6-6, at the half. Apelu Sooalo and William Nelson each kicked two penalties in the opening frame for Belmont Shore and Old Blue, respectively.

It took Grant Anderson five minutes after the break to score the game’s opening try, but Old Blue responded with two of their own in the next 20 minutes to take a 20-13 lead. Two more Nelson penalty kicks gave Old Blue some breathing room as Belmont Shore applied pressure in the final minutes. Sooalo’s third penalty kick and Jason Palaita’s try were not enough for Belmont Shore, who will play in Sunday’s consolation match at 10:30 A.M. MT.

Old Blue will meet the Oceanside Chiefs in the Division III Final after the Southern California club defeated New York’s Saratoga Stampede 38-26 in a fast-paced Semifinal. Saratoga took an early lead with a penalty kick, but Oceanside used their slick style of play and elusive running to go up 14-3 with two quick tries. Saratoga managed to capitalize on an Oceanside mishandling in the try zone before the end of the half to cut the deficit to 17-13.

Oceanside’s speed was on show in the opening minutes of the second half as a Chief picked up a loose ball at the Saratoga 22 and burst past three Stampede defenders for a try between the sticks. The Chiefs’ 24-16 lead took a hit when the referee issued a yellow card and Saratoga put the ensuing penalty kick through the uprights. Anthony Leva then caught an Oceanside clearance kick from about 35 meters out and juked a few defenders to complete a great individual play to give Saratoga a 26-24 lead, their first of the match.

A miskick by a Saratoga defender in the New York club’s own half ended up costing them the game, however, as Oceanside took advantage and again showcased the speed of the team with a try to regain the lead. They added another with less than five minutes remaining in the match to send Saratoga to Sunday’s consolation match. Oceanside and Old Blue kick off the Finals at 11:00 A.M. MT.

In Division II action, Wilmington (Del.) and Snake River squared off just as the afternoon sun started to shine on the field at Infinity Park. It took 19 minutes, but Snake River drew the first blood with a try from Moe Mateiwai and a Tyler Moyer conversion. Wilmington responded less than two minutes later to draw within two points. Each team scored twice more for a 21-17 halftime score line and a Snake River lead.

Though they had no trouble scoring in the first half, Snake River struggled in the second apart from Marcus Tovar’s try in the 47th minute. Wilmington Kevin Wiggins brought his team within two at 26-24 in the 61st minute before Moyer helped Snake Rivers cause with a penalty kick. It was not meant to be from the Idaho club, however, as Todd Gallen scored a try in the 72nd minute, with Barry’s conversion the difference in the final score of 31-29 for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin lost a player to a concussion in the opening minutes of their Division II Semifinal against Santa Rosa, but did not face much difficulty in the 35-12 win to book a trip to Sunday’s Final. Robert Llewellyn gave his fallen teammate some comfort with a try in the sixth minute for a 7-0 Wisconsin lead. Santa Rosa’s Sam Licina’s 19th-minute try leveled the score, but Wisconsin took a 14-7 lead into the break thanks to Andrew Hanske.

Wisconsin’s Miles Jobke kicked three straight penalties in the first 10 minutes of the second half and the Midwest Division II Champions added two more tries before the 65th minute to complete the victory. Santa Rosa falls to the Division II consolation match against Snake River Sunday at 12:30 P.M. MT. Wisconsin will take on Wilmington on USA Rugby TV in the Division II Final at 1:30 P.M. MT.

The Life University Running Eagles club team lost an exciting Elite Cup Final last weekend to San Francisco Golden Gate but will get a second chance at a club championship after their thrilling 40-37 comeback victory against fellow Elite Cup members Denver Barbarians in the Division I Semifinal.

Much like in their Elite Cup Final loss, Life’s opening try came out of a maul near Denver’s try zone. AJ MacGinty kicked the conversion, one of three for him on the day. Denver kicked a penalty a few minutes later and held up a certain Life try to swing the momentum in their favor, scoring their own for a 13-7 lead. MacGinty kept Life within striking distance with a penalty kick but Denver extended the lead to 20-10 by taking advantage of Life’s missed tackles. Life’s efficient passing in Denver’s half of the field paid off when a player dummied his defender for an easy try. Denver kept their lead at 20-17 going into halftime.

MacGinty opened the second half with a penalty kick to even the score, but a big skip pass at the 22 led to Denver reestablishing their lead minutes later. MacGinty again led the way for Life by taking the ball from the ruck outside of the Denver try zone and scoring, but he hit the bar on his own conversion. Denver scored two tries to seemingly put the game to bed before Life replied with two of their own. Tied at 37 going into the final minute of the match, Denver committed a penalty near their own 22, giving MacGinty, who had already successfully kicked two, the perfect opportunity to win the match for Life. He nailed the kick and the referee added an extra minute to the clock before finally blowing his whistle, sending Life to the Division I Final.

Seattle-OPSB scored two tries in the first six minutes of the other Division I Semifinal against New Orleans and did not look back on the way to a 43-25 win. After falling behind 24-10 in the first half, New Orleans scored three tries in the second half, but it was not enough to overcome the Elite Cup Semifinalists. Seattle-OPSB will meet Life in the Division I Final Sunday at 4:00 P.M. MT, while New Orleans and Denver will battle in the consolation match at 2:30 P.M. MT.

Follow along with the Emirates Airline National Club Championships on Twitter @USARugby and watch the Finals on USA Rugby TV.