Club Rugby’s Saturday Six-Pack: April 7, 2017

USA Club Rugby’s Saturday Six-Pack will take an in-depth look at one of the most intriguing club games on the weekend schedule, as well as touch on five other games from across the country with barn-burning potential. Enjoy the six-pack.

Northern Virginia Rugby vs. Washington Irish

The Men's Division II Mid-Atlantic Conference regular season title is on the line this weekend when Washington Irish travels to Virginia to play Northern Virginia Rugby Saturday, April 8. It is one of two games to be played in the Mid-Atlantic's final weekend of rugby, and proves to be the most important game in the conference season as the two clubs enter the bout tied atop the standings table at 40 points apiece.

The battle for the Mid-Atlantic title has a different look this year - and not just because of the teams involved. The conference is now split into two divisions - North and South. Saturday's clash between the Irish and NOVA will determine which of the two finishes No. 1 and No. 2 in the South - a far cry from where they stood this time last year.

Washington Irish finished a respectable fifth place in the 11-team Mid-Atlantic D2 Conference last year. Two of the teams that finished ahead of them, Old Gaelic Rugby and Philadelphia Whitemarsh, are on the northern half of the 2017 divisions. Wilmington moved up to D1 and last year's regular season champs, the Richmond Lions, have succumbed to inconsistency and a 2-7 season. NOVA, on the other hand, will be excited to be on the verge of postseason rugby after an 0-14 season in last year's Mid-Atlantic D1 prompted a shift to D2.

The conference-deciding fixture will mark one month since the two met for the first time this season. In March, NOVA built a 28-12 lead before Irish tries from Joseph Edwards and Mark Seiss got Washington back into the game. NOVA, however, closed the door on the hosts when Adam Henderson dotted down in the closing minutes to cement the team's 35-24 win.

"In the first half of the last match we managed to achieve territory and possession, but we couldn't capitalize on our opportunities," explained Washington Irish Head Coach Julius 'Toga' Fanueli. "When NOVA put themselves in position to score, they did capitalize on their opportunities. Rugby's a simple game and sometimes that's all it takes to separate two teams. We intend to do better when we're in threatening positions this week, but I'm sure NOVA feels the same way."

Other than being more advantageous with positive field position, Fanueli notes the Irish must take better care of the ball or NOVA will use its lightning-quick line speed and decision making to punish handling errors. The team did just that last week in a 26-13 win on the road against a good Raleigh Vipers side. Washington Irish scored three second-half tries in a game that saw the team "get back to fundamentals," according to Fanueli.

Irish forwards Mike Fletcher and Jay Topshe have been in good form, while scrum half Chris Curtain continues to show well. In the other corner, NOVA winger Anthony Everson has proven to be a real threat, scoring hat tricks each of the last two weeks, and hooker William Hagan leads from the front.

The winner between NOVA and the Washington Irish will take the South No. 1 seed into the Saturday, April 29, Mid-Atlantic Semifinals, having the luxury of hosting the No. 2 North seed. The losing side, on the other hand, will have to travel to play whichever team comes out on top in the North between Old Gaelic Rugby and Philadelphia Whitemarsh. The winners of the April 29 Semifinals will contend for a conference championship Saturday, May 6, at Dorey Park in Richmond, Va.

Las Vegas Slots vs. Tucson Lightning

A move to Division II has the Las Vegas Slots in position to win a conference title. The previous two season produced just three wins for the Slots in Southern California's Women's D1, but they have already accumulated five wins this season.

In order to pick up a sixth win the club from Sin City must get passed another five-win team - the Tucson Lightning. A season after going 7-0, the Lightning have their eyes set on another regular season title in SoCal. Currently tied atop the standings table with 24 points, the battle between Las Vegas and Tucson will determine which team stands above the rest in Southern California's Division II.

Dallas Reds vs. Austin Huns

With the 2016-17 Rugby Gold Cup title in their back pocket, the Dallas Reds now turn their attention to the Red River competition. The Reds currently lead the conference but must fend off an Austin Blacks team eager to reclaim the title as Texas' best as well as Saturday's opponent - a much-improved Austin Huns side.

The Reds still have three Red River games remaining on their schedule, but a win over the Huns tomorrow will go a long way to keeping Dallas in first in the conference. It was also avenge the Reds' lone defeat of the season. In February the Huns used a fast start to earn a 24-18 victory in Austin. But this is not the same Huns squad that finished 6-6 last season. The team's roster has been bolstered with offseason recruits liked Hanco Germishuys, Martin Knoetze, and Mason Pedersen.

Cincinnati Kelts vs. Columbus Castaways

If the Cincinnati Kelts want to win the Midwest Division III title they better beat Columbus this weekend. The Kelts trail the Castaways by six standings points, but a win Saturday puts them right back in the Midwest hunt.

The two teams met back in October when Columbus handed Cincinnati one of its two losses. Playing on the road, the Kelts carried a one-point lead into the second half, but tries by Castaway forwards Nick Guagenti and Alex Moller powered the club to a 19-11 win. This time around the fixture will be at Cincinnati's home pitch, brewing the makings of another exciting contest.

St. Louis Bombers vs. St. Louis Royals

The Bombers' D3 side continues to be one of the Royals' toughest competitors in the Mid-America Division III competition. The Royals' undefeated 2016-17 has already cleared a patch for yet another conference title, but the Bombers will provide a nice test ahead of postseason play.

The last time the two St. Louis rivals met the Royals blasted the Bombers, 54-7. However, one only has to look as far back as March 2016 when the Bombers nearly upset the D3 power, 16-7.

Olympic Club vs. Life West Gladiators

The second- and third-place teams in Northern California's top competition go head to head Saturday, April 8. After struggling to string together wins in the Pacific Rugby Premiership, Olympic Club has enjoyed a winning season in its return to Division I rugby. O-Club veterans Mike Haley and Tanner Mohr continue to be standouts for the San Francisco squad.

A season after reaching the National Playoffs, Life West has been bolstered by the returns of California Cup Co-MVP and scrum half Devereaux Ferris and former UCLA All-American Zach Bonte. The Gladiators are not likely to catch San Francisco in the race for the NorCal title, but a win over Olympic Club will all but seal a second-place finish.