Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Early Contenders Collide

This Saturday sees teams enjoying a renaissance early in 2019 take the pitch in the hopes of continuing their ascension back up the ranks of club rugby.

Florida Men's Division II: Tampa Bay Krewe vs. Naples Hammerheads:
There is a storm brewing in Florida, as two teams that have been laying quietly are beginning to awaken. The Tampa Bay Krewe and the Naples Hammerheads are two teams that both look to be set on a path destined for the playoffs, but first their paths will cross this weekend. It is still early in the season for both teams, Tampa Bay had played one game and Naples two; but in the small sample size available they have proved what they are capable of, which is high scoring offenses and dominant defenses. This weekend will be a marker for both teams, as to where they stand and what they'll have to do in order to reach their ultimate dreams. Despite being an early season game, it most certainly will have the feel of a playoff fixture.

The Krewe by no means are an unknown quantity within club rugby. Under the guidance of Dai Morgan in 2010 they were crowned national champions of Division II and the following year they made it back to the championship game, only to fall just short of a repeat. Since that last appearance in the Championship game, it has been a 6 year drought from the National Playoffs for the Krewe. Now, with Morgan back at the helm, they are fancying themselves for another trip back. Morgan explained that since he rejoined the fold in August, the success enjoyed by the club has been more of tinkering than any whole sale changes. "The setup was already there we just had to give the players the structure." Part of the set up was a change in tactics, but the biggest change was geographical. The Krewe moved from their old quarters into a nicer and larger facility, allowing for increased quality of training. It is already showing off as their cohesion as a team is evident.

Naples, contrarily, do not possess the same illustrious history that the Krewe do, and their last two seasons haven't been too glamorous. However, 2019 is looking like the year that it could turn around for Naples. Armed with an immense forward pack and strong coach in Paul Rokela, the Hammerheads have been an absolute menace to the teams who come across them. In their opening duo of games, Naples took down perennial power and contender Miami Tridents by 60 points; and are coming off the back of downing the Boca Raton Buccaneers, 31-10. Their ability to score points, seemingly, at will comes from their forwards' ability to set the platform and to control the possession of the ball. With a dominant hard hitting tight five and a backrow that can swarm around the field, it is nearly impossible to get the ball off the Hammerheads once they own it.

Saturday will see two contrasting styles of play go up against one another. Naples have a big strong pack led by their front row. Their trio up front are able to dominate at the set pieces and use their big bodies to plug up the channels, sucking the defenders in and allowing the backs to take care of the rest. They are a team the predicates themselves on ball retention and phase play to set up their scoring opportunities. The Krewe, however, thrive off broken play and led by their outside center Will Monnery they can, will, and do strike from anywhere on the pitch. In their last game Monnery had a day he won't soon forget scoring five tries in the one match. Morgan is quick to point to Monnery as part of the team's success. "We're very lucky to have a very talented backline... He (Monnery) reads the game really well and with our style of play being play what you see, it fits him nicely," Morgan explained.

Heading into Saturday's fixture both teams have a healthy respect for one another, born largely from the fact both coaches used to coach together. They will also know what to expect, as the two met last fall in a friendly. Morgan noted he took a younger group of players to the match and, while they were able to hold their own for the first 60 minutes, the game slipped away from them in the end. He learned the hard way just how strong the Hammerheads are over the ball and the team will have to play with the scraps that are given to them. Although Morgan seems to enjoy the prospect, "They're strong on the ball. We will have to be prepared to play off scraps; but I'm comfortable doing that."

The game has a genuine sense of excitement around it and Morgan summed it up best when exclaiming "We're expecting a humdinger."  
 

Women's Division I Friendly: Santa Monica Dolphins vs. Utah Vipers:

After pulling off an impressive upset last weekend, the Santa Monica Dolphins look to continue their hot start to 2019, when they take on the visiting Utah Vipers. The Vipers have been one of the premier teams in Division I for the past couple of years, representing the Frontier Region in the playoffs, both times their championship run was ended by eventual national champion, Life West. This year the Vipers look as strong as ever, with comprehensive defeats of the Glendale Merlins and Black Ice Rugby back in the Fall; both wins saw the Vipers score more than 50 points. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are coming off a down year in 2018, where they only managed one win. One week into their 2019 season and they've already matched their win total from last year, with an impressive 17 point victory over last year's Pacific South Champions, the Tempe Ninjas. After knocking off a team that went undefeated last year the Dolphins will fancy their chances to continue their upward trajectory. Instramental in their win last weekend were, outside center- Nina Poloukhine and openside flanker Margret Lee. If they are to take the venom out of the Vipers' bite on Saturday these two will be at the forefront of the efforts.

 

Florida Men's Division III North: Bay Area Pelicans vs. Sarasota Rugby:

Two undefeated teams clash on Saturday as Sarasota makes the trip to St. Petersburg to take on the Bay Area Pelicans. Both teams kicked their 2019 campaigns off with impressive victories. The Pelicans getting up 59-5 over Tampa Bay Krewe B and Sarasota moving by the Daytona Beach Coconuts, 43-7. Last year, both of these teams finished in less than desirable spots in the standings. However, 2019 seems to heading in a different direction for both teams- although that will change for one squad on Saturday. Talib Clemente was the man in the spotlight for Sarasota in their first game of the year, crossing for two tries, they will be hoping for a similar performance from him on Saturday. Weather shouldn't have an impact on the game, so look for both teams to spread the ball wide and try to run the other team ragged. There should be plenty of scoring and excitement throughout the 80 minute contest.

 

Red River Men's Division IV: Grand Prairie Mavericks D4 vs. Tyler Hoplites:

On the weekend, two teams will be fighting to keep their seasons alive; as the Grand Prairie Mavericks D4 and Tyler Hoplites square off and try to keep pace with competition leading Alliance Rugby D4. This will be the second time these two have met this year. Earlier in the year, it was the Hoplites who took the spoils on that occasion 50-19. However, that games was played in Tyler and winning a game at the Hoplites homefield is one of the hardest things to do. With the game being played in Grand Prairie all bets are off and the previous result can't be relied on to accurately predict the outcome. Drew Wasikowski is the bedrock for the Mavericks' D4 side. He has contributed over 100 poins to the team's total already this year, and if the Hoplites are to repeat their previous efforts, stopping the dynamic back will be key.

Northern California Men's Division III-B: Marin Reds vs. Bay Area Baracus B:

Expect fireworks this weekend when the Marin Reds take on Bay Area Baracus B. These two teams, while still early in their season, have shown a tremendous propensity to score. Bay Area hung 75 points on the San Francisco Fog in their only game of the season; and the Reds have scored a combined 60 points in two games. This weekend marks the beginning of a tough stretch for the Reds who will have to face the also undefeated San Jose Seahawks B side next weekend. To get them through this rough patch of games they will need two things: one, a win here against the Baracus B and two for their hard running inside center and number 8, Robert Miller and Connor Smith respectively, to wreak havoc on the opposition defense. Both of these will be easier said than done, as the Baracus have proven themselves to be tough in defense and they have a flyhalf and number 8, Myles Fenwick and Matthew Jones respectively, duo who can conduct the tempo of a match in a maestro like fashion. It should be a great game with work in and around the breakdown holding the key to each team's success.

 

Southern California Men's Division IV: Fullerton vs. Riverside Rugby:

Fullerton and Riverside Rugby have been enjoying a renaissance, of sorts, this year. Both clubs took time away from competing in the past years, but now are back and playing with a vengeance. After the first two weekends of the season, they sit at first and second respectively on the table; Riverside having played one game whole Fullerton have notched up two. Riverside played their only game of the season last weekend in a 56-8 drubbing of the South Bay Stingrays; while Fullerton have been busy winning their first two 58-19 against the Stingrays and 41-19 against Dead Rabbits. While not the most scientific method in the world, comparing the nature of each teams' win over the Stingrays it looks like these two should be evenly matched.  One area the game has the potential to be broken open, is through the play of Riverside's scrumhalf Nicolas Toledo-Fonchetti. Toledo-Fonchetti has was a human highlight reel last time out, scoring 21 points; but more importantly helping to set up the rest of his backline with some stellar scoring opportunities. It's going to be a belter of a game with plenty of scoring and back and forth between two very accomplished attacking teams.