Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Critical Games Across the Country

Teams sitting at the top of their tables are set to face each other, as seasons are put on the line.

Pacific Northwest Women's Division II: Bend Lady Roughriders vs. Emerald City Mudhens:

The 2017-18 Pacific Northwest Women's Division II postseason champion and regular season champions meet this weekend, as the Emerald City Mudhens play the Bend Lady Roughriders. The last time these two teams met was in the Pacific Northwest championship match, where the then, undefeated, Lady Roughriders lost to the Emerald City Mudhens. After going a perfect 8-0 through the season, there isn't a harder way to see your season end than falling off in the Championship game. This weekend the Lady Roughriders can rectify that.

Despite the dramatic end to the season last year, neither team believes any extra motivation is needed for the game. "It's definitely the biggest match of the Fall season and pretty much our league," noted Matt Burke, coach for Bend. This sentiment was echoed by the Mudhens' head coach John Wooler, "It gives us a marker of where we are at."

Both teams will use this game as preparations, of sorts, for their post season aspirations. They know the better they perform in these matches the more likely they are to succeed on the national platform. As Burke explained, "They're the biggest challenge and we usually figure, if we can get by Emerald City we've got a pretty good shot at doing well in the playoffs." Wooler agreed with Burke's opinion reiterating its value as a marking point, but added "We've put in a couple of friendly matches against national level teams. We're trying to make sure throughout the season we are pushing ourselves."

Before either team can start planning their national title aspirations, they know there is a major obstacle this weekend that must be overcome. One of the biggest hurdles each team is going to have to find a way over, is the quality of player possessed by each team. Wooler noted that a key to both teams' success over the weekend will come down to the fly half of the Lady Roughriders, Kylie Hahn. "I've got great respect for their 10, Kylie Hahn, she's one of the better kickers in the league. The two losses we've had to them have come down to her penalty kicks." However, Wooler believes his 10 is more than capable of matching up to Hahn's performances. "I think our fly half Rachel Manning has a high kicking percentage, she's very instrumental," said Wooler. He wasn't done, as there are several other players that Wooler sees impacting the game, "We have a really good center, Rachel Gonchar, at 13. In the forwards Megan Delany has been a solid back row player; and we have a strong prop that's really stood out, Celid Lira." Wooler did note that their captain and halfback Jenna Middleton has been a great leader for the team and, as their half back, has created a strong connection with Manning.  

The Lady Roughriders, according to Burke, are keeping an eye out for Manning and Delaney. "Their number 10 (Manning) and number 8 (Delaney) are significant players. They're solid all the way through and from a lot of different directions." Burke will be looking for team effort from his players this weekend but did note he expected, "our number 8 (Nicole Fritz) and full back (Marion Rodgers-Van Tassel) will contribute."

For Burke, it  is more about the success they find from one another, and not just from individuals as may have been the case in previous years. "This year is a little different than last year. Instead of focusing on winning all our league matches, which we hope to repeat, we're more focused on coming together as a team." Burke, mentioning this idea was spurred from their championship loss to the Mudhens.

Wooler to a similar extent emphasized the result of this game, and continuing into the season, will come down to his players' abilities to execute as a unit. "We always try to stick to our strategy. We believe, as we lose or gain players, if we stick to our strategy it works pretty successfully."

At the end of the day, both teams know when you play quality opposition it really comes down to executing the basics. For the Mudhens, Wooler admitted, "It's a mental game for us. If we really are sharp and mentally focused we usually play extremely well." For the Lady Roughriders and Burke, they are just hoping to spend this weekend working on integral part of their game, "We just want to play a good solid game. We just want to utilize our game plan, focusing on defense and the breakdown this weekend."

It promises to be an exciting affair that will be incredibly influential to the outcome of both teams' seasons.

Eastern Women's Division I: Philadelphia Rugby vs. Raleigh Venom:

Last year's Women's Division I national runners-up the, Raleigh Venom, return to the pitch for the first time this season, as they go up against league leading, Philadelphia Rugby. Philadelphia, who lost to Raleigh last year in the national quarterfinals, have had the perfect start to the season going, 2-0. During this run they have scored a hair under 100 points and conceded only two tries. For the Venom, they will be looking to start 2018-19 at a better pace than they began 2017-18.  Raleigh started their season at 2-2 and those two losses, coincidentally, came at the hands of Philadelphia. Both teams have backlines with an ability strike from any position and at any time. The key to this game for both teams will be maintaining possession and as a result nullifying their opposition's attack.

Rocky Mountain Men's Championship (Division III): Laramie Lumberjacks vs. Queen City Rams:

Out west, in the third division of men's play, the Queen City Rams will travel north from Denver and venture into Wyoming to take on the Laramie Lumberjacks. Both teams have had solid starts to the season. The Rams are sitting at a perfect 2-0 while the Lumberjacks are at 1-1. They are occupying the second and third places in their divisional standings, respectively. While it is still early in the season, this is shaping up to be a crucial meeting. The divisional leader, the Northern Colorado Flamingos, have started the season at a blistering pace, and have begun to pull away. To win, Laramie will need a big day from Taniela Lolhea, their Inside Center, who has already scored eight tries this season. For Queen City, Lewis McKissick is their danger man, scoring over half his team's points. Both players will need to play major roles in their teams performances if either team is to keep up with the Flamingos. 

Midwest Men's Division III North: Grand Rapids Gazelles vs. Fort Wayne Rugby:

In the Midwest, it's a rematch of one of the best games this season as the Grand Rapids Gazelles welcome Fort Wayne Rugby to town. In their earlier fixture, the Gazelles were able to steal a win away from Fort Wayne, 26-25, after two tries in the final ten minutes of the match. Each team has already experienced tremendous success this season with the lowest margin of victory, outside of their game against each other, being 41 points. They sit at first and second in their pool and the winner of this game will likely continue on to be the champion of the pool. Fort Wayne has been led by Mitchell Olny and JP Anzini. Olney has scored ten tries on the season, showing a knack for crossing the line; while Anzini, has been slotting place kicks from anywhere on the field. For Grand Rapids, despite scoring over 200 points, they do not have a standout scorer and everybody on the team, it seems, has been finding themselves on the scoresheet. With so many weapons at their disposal the best defense for Fort Wayne will be a good offense.


Empire Women's Division II: Brooklyn Rugby vs. Monmouth Renegades:

Brooklyn Rugby, have been enjoying a renaissance year in 2018-19. After finishing 2-4 last year, they are currently sitting atop the New York pool, in Empire's Women's Division II competition. Their opponents this weekend are the Monmouth Renegades, who went undefeated last year.  This season they have hit a bit of a bump and, while still a dominant side, now sit at 2-1. One game back from the top of the New Jersey Pool. When these two teams match up this weekend it will be a good barometer for each club. For Brooklyn, they'll see how they measure up to one of the premier clubs in the competition; while for Monmouth it will be a good test to see if they can get back to their 2017-18 vintage.

Mid-Atlantic Men's Division II North: Lancaster Roses vs. Doylestown Dragons:

Two undefeated teams will put their records on the line this weekend, when the 2-0 Lancaster Roses take on the 3-0 Doylestown Dragons. Last year these two teams finished first and second in the northern pool of the Mid-Atlantic Men's Division II competition and this year it looks to be heading for a similar finish. Doylestown has seen its offense fire on all cylinders this season scoring 152 points in three games. Lancaster hasn't been quite as explosive, but have been able to provide stingier defense. This game will likely turn into a battle between defense and attack. For the Dragons, they are used to getting their way in attack and their success, this round, will come down to the resiliency they can demonstrate. On the other side of the pitch, Lancaster will need to see if their defense bends or breaks when faced with the bombardment the Dragons bring in attack.