Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Rivalries are Renewed

Despite being just the third weekend of play in 2019, it is already shaping up to be one of the most exhilarating and exciting rounds of the calendar year. With the start of the Pacific Rugby Premiership, two of the strongest teams in Red River Men’s Division I facing, and two fierce rivalries sparking up again; this weekend is set to have some great rugby on display.

Florida Women's Division II: Jacksonville Sinners vs. Orlando Rugby:

Two of the best teams in the Southern region will compete this weekend as the Jacksonville Sinners host Orlando Rugby. These two teams have started to carve out quite the rivalry and this weekend they look forward to etching another episode into the annals of their rivalry.

When the Sinners take the field, they'll do so with a 1-0 record on the season and a boat load of confidence to match. They opened the season up last weekend with an impressive come from behind victory against the Tampa Bay Krewe, where they scored 14 points in the final ten minutes to run away with the match, 28-17. The effort and result from Saturday will carry through to this week according the scrumhalf and founder of the club, Melissa Butler. "We were down ten at the half, so being able to fight through that gave the team a lot of confidence going into this game. It also really showed how strong our bench is." Given the history of these past two teams having a bench of eight strong players will give them a massive boost.

Orlando has had the upper hand in the rivalry over the past several years, but now the tide is turning and they are having to compete with a Jacksonville team on the rise. Before last year, Orlando had won its last four matches against the Sinners, and hadn't dropped a game against them since 2016. However, they split the series last year, with Orlando claiming the win on an aggregate score of 65-60. If this holds true for 2019, look for an explosive display on attack from both teams and tightly contested affairs.

This weekend marks the start of back to back tough matches for both sides, as they will both have to play the winner of their competition for the last two years, Fort Miami next. Fortunately, for the Sinners they will get next week off to prepare for the match, while Orlando will have to hop into it immediately after what is expected to be a physical and tolling encounter. The Sinners aren't troubled by the prospect of two massive games in a row, Butler explaining, "We've been practicing hard all season, working on our defensive strategy and making sure we come up and get up in front of their faces to shut down their line." Butler also added that the team is excited for the run of games.

Despite their slow start to the game last weekend, Butler is confident in the Sinners and their ability to get up for Saturday's game, "I feel confident we'll come out on top. We had a really great fall season and our numbers have been really high." While it's great to have the confidence they do, it will take more than just that to get them the win on Saturday. They will need to be at their best defensively, as Orlando possess a lethal attack with six of their players scoring seven or more tries on the season- four of whom scored nine or more. Leading the attacking efforts for Orlando will be Jamie Vance, their big physical second rower. Vance led from the front, scoring 11 tries on the season and leaving a trail of destruction behind her; where ever she went. It won't be as easy as just shutting one forward down, they will also have to worry about Orlando's backs who all show an instinct for finding the line.

The Sinners have some stars of their own including captains Stacey Nemeth and Clarissa Wynn both of whom were instrumental in the win last weekend. For either team to win fitness and depth will be two large components; but that won't be all. The Sinners will need to ensure their support is there on offense. One of the big things that separated them from the Krewe last weekend was their ability in the second half to be in support, whether it was in the form of giving or receiving offloads- or just being at the break down it made a massive difference. Orlando will need to make sure they set good clean ball at the breakdown and off the set piece to enable their explosive backline to live up to their full potential. It should be a great game, with no clear winner until the final moments.  

 

Pacific Rugby Premiership: Old Mission Beach Athletic vs. Belmont Shore:

The Pacific Rugby Premiership, is starting off with a bang; as they see a rematch of last year's championship match in the first round. Last year, Old Mission Beach Athletic (OMBAC) finished atop the regular season ladder with Belmont Shore squeaking into second after an 80th minute try in their final game of the regular season. Belmont Shore would ride their momentum and capitalize on a couple of key injuries to OMBAC on their way to claiming the 2018. This year the match up, while still shrouded in its trademark intensity, will have a different, albeit cosmetic, feel to it. OMBAC in the off season has created a pipeline with the San Diego Legion, and many of their key players last year will now be featuring in the MLR; similarly, Belmont Shore has lost a couple of key players to the MLR. It will be interesting to see as the two teams take the field on Saturday if they are still at the high standards they were last year; or with a few more younger faces on the squad will they fall back slightly.

 

Pacific Rugby Premiership: San Francisco Golden Gate vs. Life West Gladiators:

Third and fourth from last year, San Francisco Golden Gate and the Life West Gladiators will open their campaigns in the PRP against each other on Saturday. SFGG were unlucky not to finish higher in the competition last year, as they were pipped at the post by Belmont Shore scoring an eightieth minute try against Life West to leapfrog SFGG into second. Life West, contrarily, had a season that fell short of their usual illustrious standards. They went 3-7 after a 3-2 start. Despite the lopsided nature of their record, the Gladiators were competitive throughout the season. In their seven losses their biggest margin of defeat was 14, which was blown out by a last minute converted try. Overall their average margin of defeat was only 9 points, and the majority of their losses were by less than that. While it is still early in the season there is plenty to watch for. On SFGG's side, with full time coach Neil Foote at the helm, it's worth seeing if they are able to start pulling away from their competition. For Life West, it will be about, whether or not they have turned the corner from last year and learned how to close out those tight games in the waning moments.

 

Pacific Rugby Premiership: Santa Monica Dolphins vs. Glendale Merlins:

The final match taking place in the PRP this weekend will see the Santa Monica Dolphins, host the Glendale Merlins, as they return to the competition for the first time since 2016. The Merlins come into replace the Olympic Club, who after being a stalwart of Division I play have dropped into the second division. Neither team had a 2018 they'd care to remember the Merlins finished third in the Red River Division I competition; while Santa Monica went 2-8 and finished second to last. However, both teams have the potential to turn around their fortunes. For the Merlins, their about turn will come from a change in strategy. The club will now act as a feeder club to the Raptors in the MLR. They will see a mix of academy and experienced players with the Raptors take the pitch for them each weekend. They are also training with the Raptors and will be playing within their systems and structures, leading what will be a formidable opposition each week. The Dolphins will need to concentrate on staying healthy, when they put their best 15 on the field they can beat anyone they come up against; however, as injuries creep into their season the lack of depth is exposed. If they can stay fit and healthy through the entire season, they will see a marked improvement from their 2018 results.

 

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

2017's National Champions, the Austin Huns will face one of the strongest teams in the country this year, Dallas Rugby, in a top of the table clash- which will have an enormous impact on each team's season. The Huns, won their first national championship in 2017- but were unable to replicate their efforts in 2018, going 1-7-2 and finishing at the bottom of the Red River competition. The cause of this was the creation of the Austin Elite, and as a result their player resources were drained. However, that issue seems to behind them now as they've opened the season at 2-0 and sitting atop the competition on 10 points. Not too far behind them are Dallas Rugby at 1-0 and on 5 competition points. The Reds took the competition by storm last year accumulating an insane for and against of 451 from their ten games; but hey were unable to get past the Austin Blacks in the championship match. This year they will be looking to learn from their mistakes, so they can reach the national stage and show the rest of the country what they are capable of. On Saturday the two teams will put on an excellent display of rugby and show exactly why the Red River is quickly becoming one of the best regions in the nation. They are becoming stronger from top to bottom and there is an emerging sense of parity within the competition that many others do not have. While it won't be the end of the season for either team with a loss on the weekend, given the strength of their competition their job of rebounding will become immensely tougher.

 

Pacific South Men's Division IV: Los Angeles Rebellion vs. San Diego Armada:

One of the best rivalries in the Pacific South returns this weekend when the Los Angeles Rebellion and the San Diego Armada will face off against each other. Over the last few seasons the rivalry has become slightly lopsided with the Armada taking home the bragging rights in their last three contests. However, this year could be the year that things swing back in favor of the Rebellion. Both teams go into the match not having played a game, due to the weather, but each will have had this match circled on the calendar once the schedule was released. For the Rebellion they will be hoping their number 8, Matthew Rips, can return to his form from 2018. In a season that didn't have many high points Rips stood above the rest and proved himself to be a cornerstone of the team. For the Legion their flyhalf, and leading point scorer, from 2018- Anthony Williams returns and will carry the brunt of San Diego's attacking responsibilities on his shoulder. It should be a great game with both teams eager to get their season off on the right foot.