Midwest’s New Spring Competition Kicks into Gear in This Week’s Saturday 6-Pack

This weekend, there is a lull in the amount of games being played due to the Easter holidays, but just because there is a lull in the quantity does not mean there is a lull in the quality.

This weekend, there is a lull in the amount of games being played due to the Easter holidays, but just because there is a lull in the quantity does not mean there is a lull in the quality. This weekend showcases some games that will have playoff implications as well as some of the best back-threes in the country going toe to toe.


Men's Thunderbird Cup Premier: Chicago Lions vs. Columbus Rugby:

The Thunderbird Cup is the solution to an issue in the Midwest. According to one of the brains behind the Thunderbird Cup, Al Lucas, at the end of last year's season it was decided that the Midwest would move all competitive matches to the Fall. There were a host of reasons given by Lucas as to why this decision was made, noting "Seasonality has been a big issue for our clubs in the Midwest, with weather playing a big role in our games in the spring. A lot of clubs also wanted the spring off so they could recruit more, or go on tours." However, this created the issue of no competitive matches in the spring. To get around this, they created the Thunderbird Cup. This competition is a round robin competition that sees two divisions of play: the "Premier" competition will see Division I teams and some high-level Division II two teams play against each other in an East and West pool; the second division will be for lower-level clubs and will similarly be split into different groupings geographically.  The winners will be decided by the current USA Rugby competition points system. When asked who he thinks will be some teams to look out for, Lucas noted that in the Premier Division look for the Chicago Lions, Detroit Tradesmen, Palmer College Dragons, and Wisconsin to all be tough beats. This weekend the Chicago Lions will be up against some top competition in the form of Columbus

These two teams met earlier in the season when they played each other twice during the Midwest's regular season. With the series being split between the two teams, each winning one, but Chicago had the last laugh, as they finished above them on the table at the end of the year. The Thunderbird Cup gives them the perfect opportunity to settle any old grudges.

As Philip Payne, the coach for Columbus puts it, "We always welcome a game against the Chicago Lions, we have a healthy respect for their game and their club. Our rivalry goes back over 40 years, they are a great club...These games are always hard-hitting, and it always comes down to one play at the end of the game to determine the outcome. I expect nothing less [this weekend]." The Director of Rugby for the Chicago Lions, Dave Clancy, added, "These are the kind of games we need to play in to develop as players and as a team."

Both teams possess a lethal counter attack, with each team having the majority of their tries accounted for by their back-three. For the Lions, Jacob Hidalgo, their fullback, was an absolute menace in the fall, scoring twelve tries. Columbus know that the Lions aren't going to give anything away easily and, with players like Hildago, they will pounce on any mistake. "The strength of the Lions is that they steadily take care of business. They rarely make mistakes and they don't need to press, they work towards making their opponents make the critical mistake," said Payne.

For Columbus, they too have a back-three that is a constant threat with their wing and full back pairing of Derek Patick and Tevita Maitavuki scoring six tries a piece in the autumn season. The Lions will need to avoid kicking to them at all costs if they are looking to reverse their fortunes from the last outing. Despite their threat in the back, Clancy believes that they will be taking the physical challenge to them, noting "I think they will be very physical and probably come at us with a tight aggressive and confrontational game plan."

Both teams have changed since their last encounter. They have been a victim of their own success and have lost several players to professional contracts, but that won't change either team's expectations for what lies ahead. As Clancy noted, "We have some younger guys who will get their chance now this season as we develop them. As a team I think we are perhaps playing a little more expansively than last time we met, I think we've simplified the framework and given the players a license to have a go."

Payne, and his Columbus side, will be adopting a similar philosophy, by consolidating their plan and looking to use all fifteen players. "On Saturday we will have a new look with players that have an opportunity to shine. Honestly, we now must play a more complete "team-oriented" game where last year we knew we would have several tries just from sheer talent."

This match and competition will provide both teams with much needed competitive matches in order to prepare themselves fully for the playoffs that lie ahead.

Georgia's Men's Division III: Savannah Shamrocks vs. Atlanta Renegades D3
Last year's Georgia Division III winner, Renegades D3, will take on the runners up from last year, the Shamrocks. Both teams have been impressive so far this season, with the Renegades D3 going 6-2 and sitting on 27 competition points, while the Shamrocks have gone 6-0 and amassed 30 competition points. The Shamrocks were the champions of the third division in Georgia in the 2015-2016 season (as well as many seasons previous), and look well on their way to reclaiming that title again this year. So far through the season they have created a point differential of 224, and have won their games by an average margin of 37 points. A lot of their success comes from their talented fullback, Roosevelt Lawrence, who has crossed the whitewash thirteen times already this season. Not to be out-done, the Renegades have a flying threat of their own with their wing, Marcus Medina, crossing the line nine times through their season. Both teams will have their hands full this weekend as they attempt to contain these potent offenses.

Mid-America Women's Division II: Kansas City Jazz vs. Kansas Bison:
In an all-Kansas affair, the Jazz will take on the Bison. As it currently stands the Jazz are sitting in second place on the ladder, while the Bison are a position below them in third. The Jazz have been able to find their offensive rhythm with ease this year, as in three games they have already amassed a for and against of 111. This has been in large part to their new recruit, Number 8, Chloe Weston. Weston has already scored eight tries this season, which is impressive, but nothing compared to the thirty-eight tries she scored last year for Kansas State. The Bison will need to get creative in order to find a way to shut her down. The Jazz were the champions of the league in 2015 and 2016, reaching the National Quarter-Finals, while the Bison's spiritual predecessor, the Jayhawks, were league champions and National Quarter-Finalists in 2014.

Men's Thunderbird Cup: Oshkosh Pigs vs. Fox Cities Gargoyles:
The Thunderbird Cup has another grudge match this weekend when Oshkosh hosts Fox Cities. These two teams met in their regular season competition, and a classic ensured. At the end of eighty minutes it was the Pigs that prevailed, by the slimmest of margins, 20-19. Oshkosh will be looking to their number eight, Kevyn Dusing, to recreate the form he had in the fall where he crashed over the line four times for the Pigs.

Pacific Northwest Men's Division IV: Portland Pigs D4 vs. Budd Bay Buffaloes:
The Pacific Northwest may find out its Division IV Champion this weekend, as the top two teams clash in a massive encounter. The first-place Portland Pigs will host the second-place Budd Bay Buffaloes, with the teams being only separated by four points, creating an incredibly tense atmosphere around the match. Playing away from home won't be an issue for the Buffaloes, as they have only lost one away match this year, and it was by three points in a second-week stumble. Overall, the teams are evenly matched, as Portland's point differential is 254 while the Buffaloes' is 255. The Pigs will be hoping that their top try-scorer Charles Reed-Dustin is on his top form, as he has accounted for six of the teams tries this season. For the Buffaloes, they will be looking to Nicholas Woods, who has bagged ten tries over the season. This game looks as though it will be a nail biter from start to finish.

Mid Atlantic Men's Division I / Division II (1B): Rocky Gorge Rugby vs. Schuylkill River Exiles:
In the final match for this week's six pack, a two-for-one deal is brewing as Rocky Gorge and Schuykill River see both their first and second sides compete against each other. In the top division, Rocky Gorge is undefeated and - with a win this weekend - they will retake their lead at the top of the ladder. For Schuylkill River, they are currently in 5th place for the top division, but they have some games in hand over two teams above them. A win here could sneak them into fourth on the table, which puts them back into the playoff picture. Last season, Schuylkill finished the season second to Rocky Gorge before falling to their cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Harlequins, in the Mid-Atlantic playoffs. For Rocky Gorge, this will be the first match since seeing star Ben Cima (Eagle #504) sign with the San Diego Legion. In the second tier, Rocky Gorge has a firm grasp on the lead, while Schuylkill isn't too far behind sitting at third. If Schuylkill wins in the second division they will have cracked open a three-way race for first place in Division I-B (Division II).