Playoff Implications Run Through This Week's Saturday Club 6-Pack

As we get closer and closer to the end of the regular season in some areas of the country, each game matters more and more. This week's 6-pack highlights some of the games that have the most significance.

Red River Men's Division I: Austin Blacks vs. Dallas Rugby:

Two of the most successful teams in club rugby go at it this weekend when the Austin Blacks play host to Dallas Rugby (the 'Reds') in a battle for supremacy in the first division of the Red River competition. Both teams enter this weekend with unblemished records, however, the Reds are on top thanks to bonus points.

The Reds have been ripping through their opponents thus far, and their smallest margin of victory is forty-one points. When asked about their ability to separate themselves from their competition, Club President David Dodge put it down to a quality defense. "Our defense this season has been really solid.  The guys really have each other's backs and play as a unit to deny the opposition scoring opportunities," noted Dodge.

The results that the Reds have been putting up haven't gone unnoticed by the Blacks, who believe they have the keys to stop the Reds dead in their tracks. "Historically we have been able to stop them, we see this season playing out to where we have to play them 3 times. By the third we believe we will have enough knowledge and understanding of their strengths and weaknesses to give ourselves the best chance at progressing to playoffs," Blacks Coach Tane Jericevich explained.

The Reds' season has been one that, after their third place finish last year, may have raised some eye brows, but to those involved in the intimate details of the club, this is the result of hard work paying off. Dallas advanced to the Men's Division I National Semi-Finals in 2014 and 2016, and look to be rebounding into form for another potentially deep run. Dodge credits both the new Director of Rugby, former British and Irish Lion Darren Morris,  and their ability to recruit depth for the turnaround. "The addition of Darren Morris as our Director of Rugby and Division 1 Head Coach has made a huge difference.  Darren has brought additional structure and discipline to our trainings, selections, and tactics on the field... Unfortunately, another DFW-area club, the Euless Texans, folded after the end of last season.  Thanks to our 7s Head Coach, Chris Howard, we were able to attract several really strong players from that club to the Reds to play 7s, and they have continued with us for 15s.  Also, our D2 side is very strong."

The Blacks have been a force to be reckoned with too. While, their victories may not have been as emphatic as the Reds, they have won all of their games by double-digit margins, and they will feel confident about their abilities to show the Reds - and the rest of the division - that they are just as lethal as the Reds. Jericevich mentioned that they have been using the trials and tribulations that come with a season to prepare themselves for occasions such as Saturday. "We have used the first part of this season to develop depth but injuries always play a huge part in squad consistency, which is key to consistency in performance... Club and culture development has played a major part in our success to date this season. This ensures that we come with the right attitude and desire to win, on top of all the technical and tactical elements we believe this to be strongest asset."

At this stage in the season the standings look almost identical to what they were at the end of the season two years ago with the Reds marginally on top of the Blacks. That's something that the Blacks shouldn't mind too much at all, as in that season they made it to the National Championship, only to fall at the final hurdle. Overall, the Blacks have appeared in an impressive 5 national championship finals. Recently, the Blacks have gone through somewhat of a transitional period, and now have a younger looking squad, but that doesn't faze Jericevich, who noted "We fully expected to have a development year with such a huge transition of players, all the old crew retiring and young boys moving into their shoes. Our young players really stepped up and have exceeded our expectations, we are excited to see where we are closing in on the business end of the season."

You can expect a hard-hitting and tightly-fought contest between these two teams, which is certainly what they are expecting at least. Although these two teams will face each other again on the 14th of April, both will be looking to prove a point this weekend and prime themselves for better playoff positioning.

 

Rocky Mountain Women's Division I: Glendale Merlins vs. Utah Vipers:

This is the first match of the season for Glendale and the second for the Vipers. Last year these two teams went at it consistently, with Utah prevailing and claiming the divisional title. Utah has been able to pick up where they left off last season, with a big win against Black Ice Rugby. Glendale will have their hands full attempting to quiet to Utah's boisterous offense. Their ability to subdue the Vipers' attack will be key to any success they plan on having.

 

Women's Rugby Gold Cup: Northern Virginia Rugby vs. Austin Valkyries:

Recently the Rugby Gold Cup, one of the top women's competitions in America, has kicked off. This week showcases two of the top teams in the competition, Northern Virginia Rugby and the Austin Valkyries. Austin is currently undefeated in the Red River competition, and have won their games by an average margin of 17.5 points, but this weekend will be their first match in the Gold Cup. They will be looking to Meekyoung Lee and Vivien Greiser to carry the brunt of the load for them, as between the two of them they have contributed 10 tries this season. NOVA has already begun their Gold Cup campaign and have performed well thus far. After a tight start to the season, beating Boston Rugby 14-5, they blew the doors off against Monmouth Rugby, 79-0. However, that result was back in November, and they have not been active since. NOVA will be looking to awaken from their hibernation, and pick up where they left off. Michelle Schneider, their wing, bagged a hat trick her last time out, so don't be surprised if their game plan involves getting her hands on the ball.   

 

Rocky Mountain Men's Division II: Park City Haggis vs. Denver Highlanders:

Number two visits number three this weekend as Park City and the Denver Highlanders go at it. The Highlanders are sitting on a 4-2 record, while Park City sits at 3-2. The game difference between the two could have massive ramifications as the Haggis are only 3 points behind the Highlanders, and a win here would put them ahead as the teams race for a spot against the Denver Barbarians in the local championship. This week will be a rematch of the final game that these two teams played in 2017, where the Highlanders won 29-19. Denver will be relying on Matthew Soderman and Brooks Pinnick, who both have four tries this season; shutting them down will be imperative to Park City's chances. For Park City they will be relying on one of their main points of attack, their hooker, Tanner Whiteman. Whiteman has contributed four tries, five conversions, and a penalty kick to the Park City tally this season. If the Highlanders shut him down they may be able to walk away with the crucial win.

 

Samurai Sportswear Pacific Rugby Premiership: Belmont Shore Rugby vs. San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG):

In a rematch of the first week's nail-biting finish, SFGG will travel down to Belmont Shore to try and make up for the last-second loss. While this is the first time that either team has faced each other since then, they have continued to be locked in a tight battle on the leaderboard. Both teams currently sit at 3-2, with sixteen points apiece. Belmont will be looking to their back row, and in particular their barnstorming number 8, Kenny Nasoqeqe, to lead the way. For SFGG, they'll likely look to their wing, Lisiale Hui Hui, who has crossed the whitewash five times in their five matches. Both teams need a win here to help them keep pace with Old Mission Beach Athletic (OMBAC) in the tail end of the season.

 

Men's Pacific Northwest Division II: Snake River Rugby vs. Oregon Sports Union (ORSU):

Up north in Idaho, Snake River will host ORSU. This is a battle for second, although first is within grasp for both teams. Snake River currently sits in second on 31 points, while ORSU sits in third on 29 points. Snake River has played a game less than ORSU so, if Snake River pulls a win out of their hat, they will have a chance of taking over first spot. Snake River may continue to rely on Stephan Wellington, their blind side flanker, whose high work rate around the field has been a major force for the men from Boise. ORSU, in a somewhat unusual trend, will be relying on their tight head prop, Enrique Lopez, to be their finisher. Lopez has found his name on the score sheet seven times this season, and with two games left he will be hoping to get into double digits.   

 

Last Week's Scores:

Norfolk Blues vs. Pittsburgh Harlequins- 36-12

Ventura County Lady Outlaws vs. San Fernando Valley-  36-38

Montgomery Yellowhammers vs.  Pensacola Aviators- 27-17

Littleton Eagles vs. Northern Colorado Grizzlies: 38-26