Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Seasons are on the Line

This weekend the timbre of the round is teams trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. The season is heading into the final weeks of the regular season, and losses here could spell the end of some teams' seasons.

True South Men's Division II: New Orleans Rugby vs. Birmingham Vulcans:

Two of the strongest sides in the South will face off this weekend, in what  will, likely, decide who wins the True South division. New Orleans Rugby hosts the Birmingham Vulcans. It is still early days in the competition with both teams undefeated, heading into the weekend. The two teams style of play contradicts each other, so this weekend will be all about establishing dominance.

"It was really evenly matched, last year, overall," noted New Orleans president Jimmy Rehkopf, "We won at home they won at home- it's a classic." Last year the series was split in the regular season between the two sides, with Birmingham taking their meeting in the playoffs. The teams know each other well. They each have an understanding for what the other brings to the table and with a shortened season for each team, comparative to previous years, they know how important each hit out is. Birmingham coach Allen Kipp adding there is a sense of excitement, "We're treating it like any other game with New Orleans. We know they're going to be the toughest team we face in the regular season; maybe, even, postseason- they're a quality side."

One of the things that has the potential to break open the game, on either side, is the talent level possessed by each team. For New Orleans, they are aided with the return of a few Major League Rugby players; while Birmingham finds comfort in its strength as a team. Rehkopf stated, "Bobby Johns is starting this weekend, he plays with the [NOLA] Gold, he's probably one of the best players in the city... I play at tighthead prop, I expect to see the back of his jersey a lot. He's going to have a big impact." Johns is just one of the many talented people New Orleans will be fielding this weekend. Kipp found it harder to single out a player, rather offering up, "It's worked the way it's supposed to work, where the team works as a team."

Birmingham's cohesiveness as a unit, is something constantly stressed through their style of play. A big, physical, team, they like to take the physicality to the opposition and this has not been lost on the men from New Orleans. "They're a physical team a lot of crash balls, they are one of the most athletic sides in the True South," mentioned Rehkopf.  This puts them at the polar end of the spectrum to the Vulcans  who as Rehkopf describes it are, "Our backs are classy, hopefully we'll get to see them cut it up." New Orleans will be aided by the wide field they play on, a stark contrast to the more narrow fields found throughout the south. However, they will be hampered by what are expected to be wet and sloppy conditions; which will make it hard for their backline to be as elusive as advertised and easier for the Vulcans to bring the game into their own brand of play.

For each team, to be successful on the weekend, it will come down to sticking to what they know. For the Vulcans, they know if they are to win the game it will be through a battle of attrition: hitting hard, hitting low, minimizing mistakes and sticking to their structure. It may be no frills rugby, but it is what has gotten them this far. On the other hand, New Orleans will need to stick to their expressive game plan. Swing the ball out wide and let the backs use their speed and quick feet to exploit holes left by the tired pack. With that being said, they must be prepared to tailor their game according to what they see on the weekend. Neither team can afford to subscribe solely to their own style of play, as it will prove to be disastrous. This game, will likely be won in either the first 20 or last 20. This is not to say there will be a blowout, but if New Orleans can establish an expansive pattern early they will force the Vulcans to adapt and adopt a new style. However, if early dominance is not established, don't be surprised in the final 20 minutes if the Vulcans can start to exploit some, potentially, tired bodies.

It will be a strong showing and a great exhibition on forward play and backline movement from both sides.  

Pacific North Men's Division II: Eastside Tsunami vs. Oregon Sports Union:

The Pacific North returns with Spring play this weekend as the men's competitions slowly start to bring themselves backout into the fray. One of the matches highlighting its return to play is the Eastside Tsunami hosting Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) in Division II play. This will be the return leg of the series for the Tsunami after they traveled to ORSU to cap their fall play off and won 33-22. A win here is necessary for both teams to keep pace with league leaders, Boise United. Boise sits at a perfect 7-0, while the Tsunami and ORSU sit at 7-1 and 5-2 respectively.  Look for ORSU to try and swing the ball wide this weekend, as they want the ball in the hands of their danger man, Nathan Kimmel. Kimmel has a phenomenal strike rate having scored 10 tries already on the season. Expect Eastside to counter Kimmel through the play of their flyhalf, Lopeti Aisea. Aisea has been in extradorinary form this season leading the Tsunami in tries. One of the reasons behind his try scoring prowess, is how masterfully he can dictate the flow of the game from the 10 position. He is adept at sharing the ball around the paddock whether off the boot or with ball in hand, but he is also just as able to break the line get the go-forward meters himself. Watch for the forwards to play a pivotal role in the weekend, as speed of ball at breakdown and the cleanliness of the ball out of the set pieces is imperative to both teams game plan. Whichever team can quell the oppositions quick ball will likely win the match.

 

Pacific North Men's Division III: Seattle Quake vs. Clark County Chiefs:

Division III play in the pacific north also picks things up again, with the competition frontrunners, Seattle Quake, taking on the third placed Clark County Chiefs- in a game that could seal the fate of each team. For the Quake they are sitting atop the ladder with a perfect 6-0 record and are six points ahead of their closest competition. With a win this weekend they will be in the driver's seat heading into their final three games. Their home stretch after this weekend will see them play three teams with a combined 5-10 record, with one of those teams accounting for 4 of the wins. The Quake won't be taking anything for granted, but will be looking to make their ride into the final rounds as simple as possible. For the Chiefs, if they lose this game and their season is, in essence, over. They have compiled an impressive year going 4-2 and scoring the most points in their division. The only issue has been a leaky defense which has let in 180 points, often in the most important games. It will be a tough battle between the two teams this weekend, as the Quake will try and suffocate the high-powered offense of the Chiefs; and Clark County will try to break the, almost, impenetrable Quake defense.  

 

Pacific South Women's Division II: Old Pueblo Lightning vs. Pasadena Rugby:

A matchup, a month in the making, comes to the pitch this weekend, as the Old Pueblo Lightning look to seek redemption against Pasadena Rugby, after they handed them their first loss in March of 2017. Last time these two met it was a five point decision where a try, in the 61st minute to Xiuhnel Zein, was the difference. This weekend the stage is set for another close encounter. Expect the Lightning to put their high powered attack on display. Centering these efforts, will be their wing, Sydney Dudley who has scored four tries in three games. For Pasadena, they'll be looking to rebound after succumbing to a 14-14 draw against the Las Vegas Slots. Despite holding the only two leads of the game, they were unable to get enough offensive production and defensive pressure to close out the game. Having only scored, 33 points in two matches, Pasadena will need to dictate the pace of the game, because if the tempo is conducted by Old Pueblo, they will struggle to keep up. This game will be an interesting matchup, but the Lightning playing at home, may be too much for Pasadena to keep up with.   
 

Pacific South Women's Division I: Belmont Shore vs. Tempe Ninjas:

While it may still be early in the season for Belmont Shore, a big win against the San Diego Surfers D1 side will have them believing this could be their best year since 2016. This conviction will come to the test on Saturday when they face the reigning Pacific South Women's Division I Champions, the Tempe Ninjas. Last year the Ninjas ran through their opposition with ease and class going a perfect 6-0. Two games into the season and they find themselves in a, fairly,  unfamiliar position of being at 1-1 and sitting in third overall. If they are to get back into pole position, they will need to get help from their first receivers combination of Heleni Kuma and Erica Hiddink. These two have been instrumental in leading the attack and getting the Ninjas off to a flying start on Saturday will be one of the major keys to success in Tempe's gameplan.  

 

Northern California Men's Division III: Olympic Club Rugby D3 vs. Google Rugby:

It's all about keeping pace in Northern California. Olympic Club D3 and Google Rugby, both are having strong seasons, but not quite strong enough and a loss for either team this weekend could prove to be dieadly to their playoff aspirations. Olympic sits second in the compeititon, while Google Rugby is in fourth; both teams are chasing Napa Valley who are sitting undefeated at 4-0 and has a 120 plus minus on the year.  Olympic have recovered nicely from an opening round loss to win four consecutive games. They've been going about it in impressive style with over ten different players  getting on the scoreboard. Google, on the other hand, has been searching for consistency all year. After winning a tight opening round fixture against Fresno, they drew the following week, lost the week after that and only last weekend returned to the winner's circle. Max Nauci has been the focal point of Google's attacking systems, averaging a try a game, he will be the center of Olympic Club's defensive efforts. The game should be close, but Olympic's depth could prove to be the difference between the two sides.