Belmont Shore and Mystic River Face Off For the Men’s Division I National Championship

It’s a matchup few would have predicted this weekend, as two teams that for most of the season looked out of contention for the national title, will meet in a game that emphasizes the saying “it’s not how you start but how you finish.”

Glendale, CO.- It's a matchup few would have predicted this weekend, as two teams that for most of the season looked out of contention for the national title, will meet in a game that emphasizes the saying "it's not how you start but how you finish." Belmont Shore was having a successful, bit at times unfruitful, season in the fiercely competitive, Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP). Mystic River on the other hand, after enduring a tough fall, played an intense Spring schedule, rallied to edge their way into the playoffs.

The Men's Division I National Championship will be played at 7pm MDT on June 2nd at Infinity Park and will be available to watch via FloRugby

Belmont, will be competing for their sixth XVs Division I National Championship, having won their first in 2012. Their journey back to the National Championship has been a long one, and one filled with troughs and peaks, no season has epitomized their journey back more than this. It was a grind just to get into the PRP championship match, but once they were presented with their opportunities they took them. After being in what their director of rugby, Ray Egan described as a "mid-season slump" they've rallied and reeled off an impressive six game winning streak. Egan crediting the turn around to some introspection, "we have just focused on ourselves and worked hard at being competitive. It has made us battle hard I believe and we are a very close group. We are playing for the jersey." 

It's been a tale of two seasons for Mystic River in many ways. Their fall was torrid season, but they were able to right the ship in the Spring. Mystic River's Head Coach, Josh Smith, who coached them to the 2016 National Championship, and won USA Rugby's Senior Club Coach of the Year in 2017, noted the poor results in the fall it was part of what helped his team experience a renaissance, of sorts, in the Spring. "After a very humbling fall season, the returning players really did a good job of re-adjusting the club culture. The boys really committed to each other and accountability in training, video and recovery sessions," Smith explained.

Two of the most coveted items that a team can have on their way to a championship, are a strong schedule, and a solid contingent of core players: Belmont has both. Belmont, as members of the PRP play in arguably the most competitive club competition in America, and Egan believes that playing quality opposition week in week out helped his team get to where they are now. "I think the PRP was really competitive this year, with any team being able to win on any given day. That has helped us with our performances and about being consistent in our performance week after week," Egan mentions. One of the keys to being able to put in consistent shifts every week is a team's core and Belmont, since their last visit, have been building a solid core. "We pretty much have a new core group of guys since our last win where a few of our senior players moved on." Egan added, "We are just maturing as a group and a few last-minute wins has helped us believe we have a chance."

This will be the second appearance in three years, that Mystic River has made in the National Championship Match, winning it all in 2016. Despite their recent success, this team bares few similarities to squad that went all the way two years ago. According to Smith, in this year's squad they've swapped experience with youth as only eight players from their last foray still remain. In spite of their age, the team has gone through a lot and is playing a more mature style of rugby than people would consider possible. "This is a very different side 5 returning starters and 8 players total from 2016 championship roster (a veteran roster). The 2018 version is much younger side, but this group has been through a lot together... This team loves playing together."

Fans will be in store for an absolute peach of a game, with both teams playing exciting brands of rugby. This will be the first time that these two teams have met each other, so while they may be blind going into the game, they know to expect a tough match up. For Belmont, according to Egan they will be looking to, "play an open brand of rugby. We like to play a continuity style of game once we win the collisions. Ultimately we like to enjoy ourselves." For Smith's men, they will be playing in a similar fashion, "Loose, sometimes way too loose for my liking. It has been challenging reeling in our youthful aggression at some points. At the same time the boys have earned the right to play expansive." For Belmont, the keys to the game will be winning the set piece, effective pressure on both sides of the ball as well as being efficient with their opportunities. For Mystic it will be getting the team to complete an eighty minute shift, something they've fallen short of on occasion.