Club Rugby Saturday 6-Pack 2-17-18

This week's edition of the Club Rugby Saturday Six-Pack continues to look at several early-season matches worth paying attention to. For winter competitions, every passing week is now setting the stage for late-season drama, and teams continue to sort their fates as every game is played.

Florida Men's Division III: Gainesville Hogs vs. Palm Beach Panthers

Gainesville, Palm Beach, and Sarasota have been the teams to beat the past three seasons in the Florida Men's Division III competition. This year, both Gainesville and Palm Beach have already defeated Sarasota (the Surge's only two losses), setting up a huge clash in Gainesville between the visiting Palm Beach Panthers and the hometown Hogs.

In last week's 44-14 victory over Sarasota, Palm Beach saw three tries from props Rick Minichino and Andres Rodriguez, as well as 19 points off the boot of Justin Philpot, the Panthers' flyhalf. Philpot was also instrumental in last year's 33-17 victory over Gainesville in Palm Beach, scoring 13 points in that match while playing fullback.

Meanwhile, Gainesville has started off this season strong, going 3-0 and only allowing 18 points in three matches (6 PPG). The Hogs took down Sarasota in a six-pack-featured match in week 1 of their season, winning 30-8, and hope to ride the momentum from their victory over Daytona Beach last week into this critical test against Palm Beach. The Hogs have won the Florida competition three out of the last four years, but Palm Beach won the regular season title in 2015 and has been 20-5 since the start of the 2015 season.

Carolinas-Georgia Men's Division II: Atlanta Old White vs. Charlotte Rugby

The Carolinas-Georgia league race is tight among playoff-eligible teams, and this match will go a long way in determining who makes the playoffs. Charlotte is currently 4 standings points off the leader pace, but has only played four matches. Old White equals the Renegades standings points total at the top (15 points each), but has played an extra match and is behind on points differential (PD). If Old White loses this one, it may be in too deep of a hole to make a late run. Similarly, this match presents an ideal opportunity for Charlotte to take advantage of its situation. In their first clash this season, Charlotte defeated Old White 63-10 in Charlotte, but travel is always a concern in the South and Atlanta should be formidable at their home pitch. Isikeli Waqa has 48 points for Charlotte in three matches so far this season, and outside center Henry Hicks has put down 5 tries in league play for the men in green and orange so far this year. Old White, meanwhile, has Collegiate All-American Lucas Baistrocchi at flyhalf, who is a critical playmaker.

Charlotte made it to the National Quarter-Finals in 2016 before losing to the eventual National Runner-Up Detroit Tradesmen. Similarly, Atlanta Old White made it in both 2015 & 2014 (they were National Semi-Finalists in 2015), and defeated Charlotte in the playoffs during each season. With Life's D2 squad no longer in the way, there's a good chance one of these two clubs will make a deep run if they can get past the Atlanta Renegades and other foes throughout the south.

Red River Men's Division II: San Marcos Greys vs. Houston United

The San Marcos Greys continue to impress in their first season in D2, only losing on the road to a tough San Antonio Rugby side. At the half-way mark of the season, the Greys sit 4-1 and in second place in the Red River Men's D2 Central. San Marcos is without Antonyo McCall, who scored 23 tries for the club last season, but still contains significant firepower in the form of Joel Cagle (180 points total last season; 59 points so far this season) and Jeff Easthagen (7 tries in 5 matches). San Marcos was a National Semi-Finalist last year in Division III, and is looking to continue building its club the right way with a big win at home.

Houston United, popularly known as 'HURT', is also doing well at the half-way mark, sitting in first place in Red River Men's D2 South while fending off a resurgent Houston Athletic (HARC) side, whom they drew with in December. For HURT, Alexander Liles continues to lead the way with 6 tries and 66 points overall after putting up 138 for the club last season. HURT has made the Red River D2 championship weekend four years in a row but still hasn't made it to the National Quarter-Finals yet. They're known as quite the force within their region, and will be difficult for the Greys to overcome.

Pacific Rugby Premiership: Old Mission Beach Athletic vs. Life West Gladiators

Week 1 of the PRP was full of excitement, and both Old Mission Beach Athletic (OMBAC) and Life West did as well as expected, capturing huge wins at San Francisco Golden Gate's Treasure Island facility.

Life West started the day with a 41-13 victory over two-time D1 National Champion Santa Monica, led by both flanker Charlie Brennan (2 tries) and inside center Martini Talapusi (16 total points). Notably, the Gladiators' victory was also without prop Huluholo Moungaloa, who was busy helping the USA Eagles to a 29-10 victory over rival Canada.

Immediately following the Gladiators-Dolphins match, OMBAC defeated Olympic Club Rugby, 52-10, and showed why they've been an early-season favorite for many trying to predict the eventual PRP champion. An incredible 7 different players scored for OMBAC, including Eagles Tim Stanfill and Tai Tuisamoa. Local hero Ian Denham added 5 conversions.

The winner of this match likely goes into a massive match next week, whether its Life West at San Francisco Golden Gate or OMBAC at Belmont Shore Rugby.

Northern California Men's Division III: Diablo Olde Gaels vs. Fresno Rugby

The Diablo Olde Gaels have wasted no time making themselves the team to beat in NorCal's D3 competition this year after a relegation the club wasn't planning on. Similarly, Fresno also finds itself relegated, as both teams were caught in a realignment affecting several clubs across three divisions after the reformation of the PRP and the general recalibration of Men's Division I nationally.

Though Fresno stumbled last week against a strong Redwood Empire side, its historic record is notable, and it should give Diablo plenty of grief. Fresno was able to best the 2017 NorCal D3 Champion Chico Mighty Oaks with a dramatic second-half comeback in week 1, and similarly defeated Google Rugby in the second week with a 75th-minute try by #8 Penisoni Tuifua. Fresno's backrow also contains Rodney Tuisavalalo, who has been huge for Fresno in their three matches this season.

For Diablo, no team has come within 20 points of them yet, and the Olde Gaels' explosive offense (147 points in three matches) has been difficult to contain. Fullback Nicholas Schlobohm has 5 tries in only two matches played, and wing Cameron Marek has 4 tries on the season. #8 Barry Thompson has also provided veteran leadership from the #8 position, and has scored 3 tries in 3 games.

Both teams still have large matches looming with Colusa County later in the year, but this week's winner will make significant strides towards finishing at the top of the table.

Texas Women's Division III: Alliance Rugby vs. Oklahoma City Crusaders

A formal Women's Division III competition is new to the Red River region, but the Texas Rugby Union has made a concerted effort to grow the women's game in recent years, going from a 5-team single division in 2014-2015 to 15 teams across three divisions in 2017-2018.

Alliance and Oklahoma City are both new to formal competition, and it should be very interesting to see who come away with the victory in this one. Both formally linked to men's programs of the same name, the teams have also both defeated the new Tyler women's program (also in its first season, and also linked to a men's program). Alliance defeated Tyler 31-5 at home, behind a 3-try effort from Paris Patterson and a 2-try effort from Kathleen Thomas. Prop Jocelyn Cain also had 3 conversions. Oklahoma City was able to defeat Tyler 50-10 on the road, and will be on the road again this week to face Alliance. 

In all, 95 club rugby league matches will be played this weekend, including 77 men's matches (81%) and 18 women's matches (19%).