Two teams to advance to National Championship from May 21-22 Men's DI Club Playoffs

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - A few familiar faces, as well as a couple of newly established elite clubs fill the May 21-22 Men's Division I Club Quarterfinals and Semifinals. In the east, Founders Field in Pittsburgh will host Metropolis, Mystic River, Old Blue of New York, and Rocky Gorge. Meanwhile, in Tucson, Ariz., the Austin Blacks, Dallas Reds, Life West Gladiators, and San Diego Old Aztecs are set to contend at Kino Sports Complex with the hopes of advancing to the June 4 National Championship Final.

Metropolis set itself up well for the spring by posting a 10-1 conference record in the fall. The team hit a minor skid between March and April, but hit its stride down the stretch to claim the Midwest. The succession of losses was less to do about a drop in form than getting younger players acclimated to Division I rugby.

"It took us some time to get our very young guys up to speed," explained Metropolis Head Coach Nate Osborne. "But now we are hitting on all cylinders at the right time of the year."

The men from Minneapolis have seen some turnover due to a few players signing PRO Rugby contracts, as well as a couple of injuries to key members. Fortunately for Metropolis, a top-two finish in its conference last year placed the team in the Rugby Gold Cup competition against the best from the Red River, giving the team additional opportunities to test itself against top talent. The results did not go the way Metropolis had hoped, but the series of matches was still plenty beneficial.

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"The Gold Cup was great," Osborne shared. "It was exactly what we needed. The fall games were close and hard."

Metropolis' Quarterfinal opponent, Mystic River, has quickly elevated its club as one of the very best - not just on the east coast, but in the country. While having no trouble with either the Boston Irish Wolfhounds or Boston Rugby of the American Rugby Premiership, Mystic River was able to split its four matches against Old Blue and the New York Athletic Club.

Mystic River may not possess some of the big-name talent its fellow Quarterfinalist boasts, but the team plays with an unselfishly advantageous style that helped it reach the Cup Quarterfinals of the 2015 Club 7s National Championships.

The other May 21 Quarterfinal at Founders Field pits Old Blue against Rocky Gorge in a battle of standout fly halves. Capped Eagle James Bird leads the Old Blue outfit that is coming off of its best win of the season - a 37-19 victory over Life.

"It's definitely beneficial to the boys," Old Blue Coach Gary Heavner said of ending the regular season with such a quality performance. "They worked hard with that goal in mind. The way our schedule worked out with that game at the end of it, we were able to target that match, then have a week off and now we're targeting this match against Rocky Gorge."

Rocky Gorge is in the midst of a pretty special season. In its first year playing Division I, the Maryland-based club has dominated conference play out of the Mid-Atlantic. The team also has a gifted fly half in Ben Cima, who has used his powerful right boot to qualify the USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-Americans for the World Rugby U20 Trophy by nailing a kick at full time against Canada from beyond the 50-meter line. Cima and a plethora of talented teammates appear to have Old Blue's attention.

"Clearly they have some big boys," noted Heavner. "They ran the table in the MAC, we're aware we have one common opponent and aware how good their kickers are. I think we both know how the other will play, it's just going to come down to who executes their game plan."

Like Rocky Gorge, Life West won a conference title in its first season playing DI rugby. Against a very difficult slate of northern California squads, the Gladiators still have an unblemished record heading into its Quarterfinal contest versus San Diego.

"They are big, physical, and they are quick in support," said Old Aztec Coach Teagan Thibodeau. "They have top-level coaching, talented players, and a solid structure. We aren't going to get a margin for error with these guys, so we need to make the most of every opportunity and cannot leave points out there."

San Diego, a team that was a perennial contender in the DII National title race prior to shifting to DI in 2013, is making its first Quarterfinal appearance at the DI level. While the Old Aztecs are thrilled with how far they have come in recent years, and this spring specifically, the team is not content to bow out at the Round of Eight.

"We are pleased with how the season has gone thus far, but we're not done yet," claimed Thibodeau. "We've taken the season one game at a time. Our goal has been to improve every game and come away from each match with the win - this Saturday will be no different."

The winning side between Life West and San Diego will face the winner of a Red River rubber match in Tucson. The rivalry between Austin Blacks and Dallas Reds has heated up in recent years. The last three fixtures between the two sides have been decided by an average of three points.

Austin was able to once again get the better of its rival Dallas in a classic match with a 34-30 finish back in February. However, the Reds returned the favor with a one-point win over the Blacks on the final day of April. Saturday's Quarterfinal, which is also a rematch of last year's National Semifinal, should be as exciting to watch as any this weekend.

All matches in the Division I competition - from both Founders Field and Kino Sports Complex - will be streamed live on USA Rugby TV. The full broadcast schedule and additional information on how to watch the Club Quarterfinals and Semifinals can be found here.

Only two teams out of the eight remaining in the division will move on to the 2016 USA Rugby Club National Championships June 4-5 at Infinity Park, where Austin lost out to New York Athletic Club in 2015.

"Our goal has been to improve every game and come away from each match with the win – this Saturday will be no different."
Teagan Thibodeau, San Diego Old Aztecs Coach