Elite Cup Preview: Chicago Lions and Old Blue of New York Meet to Renew an Old Rivalry

Two of the most storied clubs in USA Club Rugby will meet in Chicago this weekend, to compete to be the Premier Fall Champions in the Elite Cup.

The Elite Cup, the Men's Fall Premier Championship, returns on Saturday October 27 as the Chicago Lions host Old Blue of New York at For Hope Pitch. Kick-off is at 3:30pm Central time, and a broadcast will be available through usarugbytv.com.


Watch The Elite Cup


 

After several years of planning and preparation the Elite Cup returns to the American rugby landscape with a renewed focus. The new focus is to provide the premier Fall clubs and their players, a stage to be seen by professional scouts; and to play for a Fall Championship, before any significant alterations can be made to the teams before the Spring.

In its return, the Elite Cup sees two of the oldest and most historic clubs in USA Rugby duke it out. The Chicago Lions, who currently sit at 6-1 in the Midwest Premiership and are in the joint lead for first in the Eastern Pool, will take on the 2018 ARP Champions, Old Blue. Both teams are excited not only to continue their already successful seasons, but to also play a familiar rival.

Old Blue have faced each other twice in recent months and while they appreciate those fixtures, they do admit that playing for some silverware has created an extra spark in camp. "There is a cup on the line it means so much more," noted Old Blue head coach Dom Wareing. "We just hope that we can put in another performance that really allows us to compete and hopefully add something else to the trophy cabinet."

The Lions were quick to agree with Old Blue's sentiment, head coach Dave Clancy admitting, "It's an opportunity to play for silverware. We're 1-1 with Old Blue over the last 12 months. Even internally between the two clubs we see it as a kind of decider for a three-way series." 

With such an intimate knowledge of their opponents, each of the teams has a fairly sound idea of what they can expect. However, both know that despite their understanding of one another, it doesn't make it any easier to prepare. "They're a demanding team," began Clancy. "They don't look to slow the game down and they don't kick for corners. They look to keep the ball alive. They've got some real threats across the backline; whether its, Connor Wallace-Sims or Luke Hume, it's an area you've got to be on top of... however, the need to lead with intensity was our biggest take away from our first game against them."

Wareing expressed a similar expectation from Chicago, noting they will come out with a lot of passion and intent. "I'm expecting a well-coached team. A team that has a long history and tradition so a lot of pride comes along with that. We're expecting a battle not just physically but tactically too. I'm sure they'll have done their homework, and I expect a prepared and organized team."

The Lions' pride will only be reinforced by playing in front of their home fans. However, neither coach expects the game to be won purely off who is hosting the event. "I'm not a big believer in how much of an influence home and away is. The Proof is in the pudding they've com here and beaten us before and we've gone their and beaten them," explained Clancy.

Travelling has been a big part of Old Blue's success story this season. Having travelled twice to play Life, once in Atlanta the other in Virginia. On both occasions they were successful, and Wareing puts that success down to a culture the leadership has implemented over the years. "All season we've talked about controlling the controlables. We try to minimize the distractions and potential excuses... having gone on the road before and won will definitely give us confidence."

Part of what has helped Old Blue so successful on the road this year, has been the contributions made by some of their star players. This weekend will be no exception, as Old Blue will have the services of Dylan Fawsitt on Saturday. Fawsitt players was selected into the Eagles squad for the November tests, which kicks off a week from Saturday against the Maori All Blacks. His availablity has helped keep motivation high, as Wareing explains, "It definitely means a lot. It boosts everybody's morale."

For the Lions' motivation, according to Clancy, they'll be looking to their captain and number eight, Andy Rose. He will not only be the man they turn to in tough times, but his ability to get go forward will help set the stage from which the Lions will be able to attack. Patience is a big part of their game plan this weekend, and if Rose is able to keep cool heads on the field, it will go a long way to securing a victory.

Neither team was willing to give away too much of their strategy this weekend, but both conceded that they will be taking a more internal look rather than focusing on their opponents. Wareing citing a recent article on Alex Ferguson, the storied Manchester United manger, noted that they are a 75-25 team. Where 75% of their focus is internal. He did elaborate and note that "We're going to be tweaking a couple of things. Try to find the one percent that is going to allow us to make a difference on the weekend."

Clancy's men are taking a similar approach, noting that the biggest thing will be focusing on their play, rather than too much on what Old Blue does. "Our biggest thing is going to be our patience. We need to understand that we might not be able to unlock Old Blue in the second or third phases, it might take four, five or six.  We're not just looking to cope with their intensity but bring our own."

This match will prove to be an exhilarating display of rugby. Both teams like to play fast and score often. It will be a testament to the strength of club rugby, and it will likely be decided by, as Clancy noted, who can remain patient within their structures, and who brings the most intensity.