Saturday Club Rugby 6-Pack

As the first large weekend of play in 2018 approaches, six USA Club Rugby matches have been selected as interesting ones to follow.

As the first large weekend of play in 2018 approaches, six USA Club Rugby matches have been selected as interesting ones to follow.

Southern California Men's Division IV: Los Angeles Rebellion vs. San Diego Armada:

This week's featured game sees two teams from the fourth division of men's rugby in Southern California face off against each other. Over the past few years a fierce rivalry on the field - but a close friendship off the field - has developed between the Armada and Rebellion. In the last few seasons their matches have been see-sawing affairs with teams swapping wins regularly. As Armada president Cameron Stevens put it, "It's an understatement to say they we are fierce rivals... it's fun to beat someone but it's more fun to beat someone you know really well." When asked about what they'll need to do this year to ensure they retain bragging rights, Stevens replied,: "It's a matter of consistency in attack and defensive alignment...they take the style of 'you have to earn the right to go wide.' So we need to recognize that physical challenge." 

Going wide will be a part of their new look this year. During the off-season, they brought in a new coach, Ryan Stone, who Stevens described as"a breath of fresh air." The combination of a new coach and their fly-half suggesting a new system has led to a reinvigorated feeling amongst the team. Tony Williams, the fly-half, suggested that they move away from the "battering ram" style and "let everyone be a rugby player." Stevens admitted, "It's really fun, and given new life to everyone playing." Their new system isn't just paying dividends with morale, it's paying off for them on the score sheet too. In their preseason the Armada were able to implement it successfully in a couple of tournaments. They will be hoping it pays off for them this weekend as well.

For those that play in it, part of what makes this rivalry so special isn't just the fact that they are evenly matched teams - but something much larger instead. It is the fact that both teams are members of International Gay Rugby (IGR), which is an organization that made up of primarily gay and inclusive teams. IGR's mission is to help their member clubs with development support and resources in the areas of club organization, recruitment, retention, fundraising, event management, as well as regional and national union relations. Stevens described it as a "brotherhood". Stevens says that there is a special bond between rugby players that already exists, but when two people are both members of IGR, in Stevens's words, "Oh, now we're going to be really good friends."

The jewel in the crown of the IGR is the Bingham Cup, the biannual world championships of gay and inclusive rugby. According to its website, "the tournament is played in memory of 9/11 gay rugby hero Mark Bingham, one of the passengers who fought back against hijackers on board United flight 93." The 2018 edition will be held in Amsterdam, where the Armada will be participating after having been a part of the 2016 edition in Nashville, which Stevens described as "one of the best things I've ever done." Stevens conceded that five years ago the Armada were on the precipice of extinction. As such, this tournament represents more to the club than a chance to celebrate their identity, as, so to take a team on an international tour is a reason to celebrate. Before they can celebrate in Amsterdam, however, they'll be hoping to celebrate a win over their friends and rivals, the Rebellion.  

Red River Division II: San Marcos Greys vs. Houston Athletic

San Marcos are currently in their first year in Division II play. They were promoted this year after they won their Division III competition twice in the last three years - including a 3rd place national finish in 2017. Their opponent, Houston Athletic, have just moved down from the top flight of Red River play. This game will be an interesting assessment of how each team is adapting to their new environments.

Northern California Division II: Santa Rosa Rugby vs. Sacramento Blackhawks

Out in Northern California, Santa Rosa finds itself back in Division II after a year of national realignment, and its first league match will be against the 2017 NCRFU & Pacific North Division II champions, the Sacramento Blackhawks. Santa Rosa won back-to-back national championships in Division II in 1993 and 1994, and also made four consecutive quarter-finals from 2010 to 2013, and have always been a traditional Division II power. Testing themselves against the new kings of their competition should go a long way in forecasting the season in the Pacific North competitive region.

Northern California Division III: Google Rugby vs. Colusa County Rugby

This game pits two of last year's semi-finalists against each other. Colusa, which as a county only has 21,000 people in it, have made the Northern California playoffs three years in a row and in 2015 made it to the National Quarter-Finals. Google in the same time frame have never had a losing season, and are widely considered an up-and-coming club. 

Red River Division II: Austin BlacksD2 vs. Houston United

Both teams played in the Red River semi finals last year, and with each team suffering set backs early in their seasons (the Austin Blacks losing to San Marcos Greys and Houston United drawing with Houston Athletic), both teams will be looking to right the ship quickly to ensure that they are again featured in the playoffs.   

Southern California Division III: Orange County Ravens vs. North County Gurkhas

The Orange County Ravens have won the last three Southern California Men's Division III titles, but haven't been able to get passed the quarter finals on the national stage. The Gurkhas were recently moved down from D2 due to conference realignments and are expected to be competitive immediately. The winner of this game could easily be crowned divisional champions at the end of the season.

Note: There are no women's league games taking place this week. Please check in next week for a feature on the start of the Florida Women's Division II competition and several other men's matches in the January 20 edition of the Club Rugby Saturday Six-Pack.