Upstart Texans take on recommitted Yankees for Men's DIII title

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - No team has ever won back-to-back Men's Division III National Championships since the first DIII title was awarded in 2000. That trend will continue this year when the Euless Texans and Fairfield Yankees do battle in the June 5 Men's DIII National Championship Final.

Fairfield has National Championship history, but that was as a Division II side. Back in 2004, the Yankees topped Nashville Rugby, 23-3, to claim the DII crown.

Since its 2004 title, the club has moved to DIII and still has not made much of a splash on the national scene. In 2014, current head coach David Lyme took over the Yankees' reins and has had a huge impact. As big a help as Lyme has been, it has been a concerted effort from the entire club to improve that has led to a Championship run in 2016.

"After our loss to Danbury at the end of our fall season, we all immediately committed to getting into the gym over the winter and continuing skills training indoors," explained Lyme. "By January, we were training together four days a week."

Fairfield's commitment to improve, especially on its fitness, led to a place in the May 21-22 Club Playoffs in Pittsburgh. Success has not gotten to the Yankees' heads either. Victories in the National Quarterfinals and Semifinals by a combined 72 points have only pushed the boys from Fairfield, Conn., even harder.

"We also simply have a culture of pushing ourselves," Lyme said. "After the Quarterfinal and Semifinal matches, we showed up to practice ready to hit our fitness even harder. We know we are going to be playing at altitude and that we need to be fit for that reason."

It has not just been the impact players working their tails off, either. Well over 25 Yankees are still showing up to every training session to help the team get better - whether they are traveling to Nationals or not.

Euless lacks Fairfield's 40-year history, but the second-year club will not be any less competitive because of it. The 2014-15 season was quite successful for Euless considering it was the club's first year of competition. The Texans went 8-2 during the regular season before falling to the team that handed them their only two defeats, Dallas Athletic, in the Red River Rugby Conference Playoffs.

Euless made remarkable improvements from year one to year two, and went undefeated during the season - hammering Dallas Athletic in their two meetings. Two more victories in the Red River Playoffs and at Club Playoffs positioned the Texans to play for a National Championship fewer than 17 months after the club played its first match.

Leading the relatively inexperienced Texans are captain Eric Pauni and powerful lock Salesi Taufa. Other than those two, the rest of the roster is made up of players with only one to three years of experience.

Any lack in rugby expertise among the Texans is undermined by the team's remarkably positive culture. The Euless roster is almost entirely of players from Tongan or Samoan descent. The players all take pride in not only their heritage, but their community in Euless, too, and spend as much time together away from the training paddock as possible.

The Texans and Yankees have distinctly different histories, but both clubs have a common goal - grow the sport of rugby. Playing for a National Championship this weekend will no doubt be an exciting time for everyone involved, but Euless and Fairfield are more concerned with the growth of rugby in their respective communities. The Texans strive to heighten the awareness of rugby throughout the Dallas-Forth Worth area. In Connecticut, the Yankees have been supporting age-grade rugby in its community for years.

"We've had coaching sessions with the U10s and have supported our high school teams in their quest for statewide success," Lyme said. "This will lead to not just a National Championship now, but long-term success for our entire organization."

The June 5 fixture pitting the Euless Texans versus the Fairfield Yankees for the 2016 Men's DIII National Championship at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo., will kick off at noon MT and air free of charge on The Rugby Channel.

A full list of the 2016 Club Championship matches can be seen at USARugby.org.