Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Pivotal Weekend for Premier Teams

This weekend, across all divisions and across the whole country there are some tantalizing games being played; however, this weekend is crucial for the three premier fall competitions: The American Rugby Premiership, the Midwest Premiership and the Women’s Premier League.

All three competitions will cross paths in two weeks' time at the Premier Fall Championship weekend, October 26-28. Over the course of the weekend the Women's Premier League will play their Championship brackets on the Friday and Sunday and the Men's Elite Cup, will see its rebirth, on the Saturday. You will be able to catch the WPL action on FloRugby.

American Rugby Premiership: Old Blue vs. Life Running Eagles:

It is the final round in the American Rugby Premiership, and the stage is set for a massive match-up between first placed Old Blue of New York and second placed Life Running Eagles. Only four competition points separate these two teams and, as this is the final game of the season, it will act as a defacto championship match. These two teams have met once before this season, on that occasion it was Old Blue who claimed the victory in a tight affair, 33-27. This time the stakes are higher, they will be playing for a spot in the Elite Cup final where they will face the Chicago Lions.

Both teams acknowledge the fact this weekend, is not just another weekend and it is a huge game for the players and the club. Blake Bradford, Life's head coach, noting, "We are under no illusions for what we have to do this weekend. We have to go and win the game and we have to score four tries to have a shot at winning the ARP." Old Blue's president, Calder Orr, echoed similar sentiments, "We are definitely treating it like a championship level match. Life is always a good opponent; the last time we played them was the first time in several years, if ever, we'd beaten them at their home." Adding to the Championship feel, the game will be played at the neutral site of Mary Washington University.

It is an odd situation the ARP champion will find themselves in, as they have known since the beginning of the year who they would be playing in the Elite Cup- The Chicago Lions. Despite knowing who lies waiting for them, neither team is ready to put the cart before the horse. Bradford said, "We're 100 percent focused on this weekend and the ARP and on Old Blue. We have a tough challenge ahead of us. All of our attention and focus has gone into this game." Orr had a similar outlook to Bradford, but admitted they have been keeping a loose eye on the Midwest.

As they look towards this weekend, however, each team knows exactly what they will have to do in order to remedy the issues they encountered in their last fixture. For Life, it was their set-piece. Life has a strong forward pack and consistently lays excellent platforms for their team to attack from, that was not always the case last time around. "We want to have a strong performance with our pack both in scrums lineouts and in open play," began Bradford. "We have some very exciting backs, we would like to set them loose and let them have some fun. A big part of that will be setting a platform at the set-piece."

For Old Blue, they are wary of the dynamic counter attack that the Running Eagles possess. "Trying to bottle up and eliminate any counter attack with good chase," Orr noted. "But also respecting them at the set piece where they plug their backs in and can take advantage of their speed and talent of their backline." Old Blue has plenty of firepower in their backline too, but they will face a tough test in shutting down the Running Eagles.

Teams aren't just looking at the units or individual areas, they are also looking to individuals to help lead the squad. For Life, they are expecting the return of their captain Neethling Gericke to have a massive impact. "Last game we were without Neethling Gericke who does a really good job of leading the team," explained Bradford. "This weekend he is available to play so we are looking for a strong performance and leadership from him."

Old Blue, funnily enough, will be looking to a former Life player, Blane McIlroy to shoulder a lot of the responsibility on Saturday. "McIlroy just joined the club and he stepped in for the first time for us the last time we played Life," recounted Orr. "Since then he has played outstandingly and we hope to see him have a bigger role this weekend against Life."

Saturday will produce some of the greatest club rugby a fan could hope for. Life needs to get a bonus point win in order to reach the Elite Cup, so you can be sure that they will be playing with nothing to lose. For Old Blue, they will just have to go round for round with Life. It is something they've proven capable of doing before, but they'll have to do it for one last game. It will be edge of your seat stuff from start to finish, as each team's desperation will be on full display.

Midwest Premiership: Chicago Lions vs. Cincinnati Wolfhounds:

The ARP champion will face the Chicago Lions, in the Elite Cup Final. The Lions have been putting together a successful Midwest Premiership campaign and are currently undefeated. Their opponents this weekend, The Cincinnati Wolfhounds, have made a habit of being a nuisance to every team they have played this year. While they are yet to record a win, in their four games thus far they have only lost by more than two tries once. That one occasion was the last time they played the Chicago Lions. David Brogdon, the Wolfhounds outside center, has been their catalyst this year, leading the team in tries and points. For the Lions, they have electrifying backline and will be hoping that this weekend they can put it on full display. While, on paper this game may seem a one-sided affair, the Wolfhounds have proven to be one of the toughest outings in the Midwest Premiership and the Lions will have to be on top of their game if they are to keep their record untarnished.

Women's Premier League: Berkeley All Blues vs. Glendale Merlins:

With only two rounds left until the Women's Premier League Championship series, there are still seven teams competing for the four semifinal positions available. Of those four teams, two of them will meet this weekend, when the Berkeley All Blues host the Glendale Merlins. As it currently stands, the All Blues and Merlins sit in first and second, respectively, in the Blue Conference. If the season ended today, they'd both make it into the semifinals. However, the season doesn't end today and it is more than likely one of these teams will not make it into the semifinals. Berkeley, although sitting in first, has played one game more than Glendale and third placed San Diego. All three of these teams are tied on 24 competition points. Glendale and San Diego both have two games left in the season, this will be Berkeley's last game. If Berkeley loses and San Diego wins, Berkeley will be eliminated from playoff contention. A cruel fate for a team with an impressive five-win season, in a tough conference, but that is the reality they face. For the All Blues, much of their success, as it has all season, will come from their fly half, Evan Hoese. Hoese has an unrivaled ability to dictate the flow of the game, create space and find holes to put teammates through. Hoese has demonstrated an ability to go solo too, scoring eight tries this season. For the Merlins, they too possess a maestro playing the fly half position, in veteran Hannah Stolba. Stolba has proven to be effective with the boot, slotting goals from anywhere on the field. Kicking will only get you so far, and when Glendale looks to go further they look to their sublime wing, Nichole Wanamaker who has crossed seven times on the year. Between these two Berkeley will have their hands full in defense.  

 

Women's Premier League: New York Rugby vs. Twin Cities Amazons:

In the WPL's Red Conference, the big game this weekend, is again another one plays two match-up, as second placed New York Rugby hosts first ranked Twin Cities Amazons.  In a similar situation to the Blue Conference leaders, the Twin Cities Amazons will be playing their last game of the regular season over the weekend. Where the difference lies, is they have a comfortable cushion between their competition. They currently sit on 24 points while second, third and fourth place lie on 22, 20 and 16 points respectively. If Twin Cities win they will have locked in their place in the semifinals. If they lose they will have to rely on other teams to pull them through. One of the hallmarks of the Amazons this year has been their ability to pile on points. On two separate occasions they have scored in excess of fifty points. They are a team that is on a hot streak, having secured three major victories in a row and New York will have to fight against their momentum. New York, the defending champions, will not have fond memories of their last outing against the Amazons, as it sparked a two-game losing skid. That skid has now got them in a hairier position than they would like to be in. Their success this weekend, will rely on the performance of Sarah Levy. While New York is a complete team one through to 23, Levy has been heads and shoulders above the rest of the team and, for that matter, the league this year, scoring 19 tries. The recipe for success seems pretty simple, if Levy can't get going there is a good chance New York's offence and, subsequently, their post season hopes will stall.

 

Women's Premier League Beantown Rugby vs. D.C Furies:

Beantown Rugby are currently sitting in fourth position in the Red Conference, and have a fairly simple equation. Win their final two games, or they're out. Beantown has been an enigma so far, this year, fluctuating between looking like serious contenders for the title, and looking as if they may finish bottom of the ladder. This weekend in their penultimate game, they will face the D.C Furies. The last time these two met it was a one-sided affair, Beantown romping home, 52-3, victors. The tone for the match was set in the first half, when Michelle Omondi crossed for four tries. If D.C is to right their wrongs from last time, they will need a big performance from their All-Star Lauran Glover. Over the course of the season, Glover has crossed the line more than any of her teammates; however, in their previous encounter with Beantown, Glover's effectiveness was nullified. With the Furies unable to make the semifinals, watch for them to try and play spoiler to other team's postseason dreams.

 

Women's Premier League: San Diego Surfers vs. Chicago Northshore:

2018's Club 7s National Champions, the San Diego Surfers, will look to add the 2018 WPL championship to their cabinet; but before they do, business needs to be taken care of against Chicago Northshore this weekend. The Surfers will close out the season facing the two teams, from the Blue Conference, that have already been eliminated from playoff contention; Chicago Northshore, and ORSU. While, this may be the easiest road to the semis out of any team in the Blue conference, neither game can be taken lightly. The Surfers last game against Northshore is the perfect example of this. After escaping to an early 24-0 lead, in the first half, Northshore came back to win the second half and stopped the Surfers from adding to their tally. This weekend they will be led by the newly appointed Women's XVs captain Kate Zackary and fellow Eagle Megan Foster. The two combined have proved to be a lethal combination, and will look to continue that trend this weekend. Chicago, on the other hand, will look to the dangerously high work rate of their forwards to carry them through this weekend. They have proven themselves to be one of the most competitive packs in the country.  This could be seen by many as a trap game for the Surfers, and they will need to be on their toes in order to avoid a more complicated than necessary path to the semifinals.