Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Playoff Aspirations are at Stake

With the playoffs rapidly approaching, this weekend could spell the end of the line for some teams and their season; for others it could be the start of a deep run.

Mid-America Men’s Division III: Sunday Morning Rugby vs. Columbia Outlaws:

With only two matches left in the third division of Mid-America play, a crucial matchup between top of the table, Columbia Outlaws and second placed, Sunday Morning Rugby, is set to unfurl. A loss here, to either team, will likely eliminate hope of finishing the season at the top of their table.

Fall 2018 was successful for both Sunday Morning and the Outlaws. Both went through their schedule undefeated, often winning their matches in emphatic style. Sunday morning scoring, on average, 49 points a contest and the Outlaws, 56. However, Sunday morning suffered their first loss of the season last weekend; as they returned for their first match since winter break. This weekend when asked about any concern surrounding the outlaws’ readiness, Head Coach Richard Ross was admittedly had concerns about his team’s ability to perform immediately. “As a coach I’m always worried about my preparation,” Ross began. “We’ve had some injuries, but I think we have the personnel and the replacements- where people can come in and do an equally good job.”

He’ll need them to step up too, as their next two games are against the two teams directly below them, Sunday Morning and Springfield Rugby. There aren’t many harder schedules to close out a season, but Ross is confident in his team’s ability to over come. “We feel pretty confident,” noted Ross. “We’re coming off a successful fall, and we know Sunday Morning had a successful fall also; but we have a solid side and we have had success against them before.”

Luckily for Sunday Morning, while this is a daunting matchup, they will have a simpler end to the season, when they face second from last- St. Louis Royals D3, next weekend. However, they first must get over the initial obstacle of taking down the Outlaws. If they are to do this they will be reliant on their physicality to see them through. A team notorious for loving and thriving off the physical nature of the sport, look for Sunday morning to come out hard in the first twenty minutes to try and assert their game plan on the Outlaws and to tire them out defensively.

A physical matchup, may not exactly be what the Outlaws are looking for. Despite not having played a game since October, they are still carrying a few injuries to some key players. Even with the injuries suffered, Ross is still confident in the depth the team possesses to get the job done. “I’ve got a couple of key guys out. Our flyhalf is gone to a leg injury and our 8-man is out too. Those two are key to our team; but the other guy coming in at standoff is an old player, who has over 20 years of experience.” With 20 plus years of experience on the bench, It’s understandable why the Outlaws are feeling confident about their ability to remain undefeated.

For Sunday Morning, they’ll be relying on their dominant, outside center, Tyler Houk to set the tone for them both in attack in defense. The number 13 is exceptional with ball both in and out of hand. Don’t be surprised if Columbus stick a couple of extra defenders out in the middle of the field to help the backline cope with the demands of marking a center of his caliber.

It’s going to be a tough encounter for both teams, but they’ll both know what they need to do in order to win. On the Outlaws end, they’ll need to keep the ball in hand and play an echordian style of play- in then out, in then out. Ross elaborating, “I think every week it [keys to success] is maintaining possession of the ball and our forwards doing a good job of keeping the ball in tight when we run the ball up. The game plan is to keep the ball and don’t give it up.”   For Sunday Morning, it will be dominate set piece and let their physicality do the work in contact and around the breakdown.

Southern California Men’s Division III: Kern County Rugby vs. San Luis Obispo Rugby:

With time running out on the Southern California’s Men’s Division III competition, there is a massive game taking place this weekend. Second placed Kern County Rugby  will welcome third placed San Luis Obispo into town, for a game that will likely seal the fate of one team, and let the other fight for another day. As it stands, Kern County is sitting in second in the competition, tied for competition points with league leaders, Belmont Shore D3- on 30 points; and San Luis Obispo is only four points behind them. They both have a card up their sleeve, as they have each played one less game than Belmont Shore D3. However, a loss here to either team could derail hopes of postseason glory. If their dreams are to stay alive, Kern County will need a big performance from their inside center, Michael Hendrick- who has been a revelation this season, scoring 108 points, including nine tries. San Luis Obispo will need to shut Hendrick down, if they are to win the game. Contrary to their opponents, San Luis Obispo does not have a stand out player, rather they work well in units. If Kern County can disrupt San Luis Obispo’s patterns, it could spell trouble for the men from the coast.

Eastern Women’s Division I: Philadelphia Rugby vs. Northern Virginia Rugby:

The top flight of women’s rugby in the east picks back up again this weekend, when undefeated Philadelphia Rugby take on Northern Virginia Rugby. The two teams are at opposite ends of their seasons. Philadelphia is wrapping up their conference schedule; while NOVA, is just starting theirs. In the fall Philadelphia were untouchable, running through their opposition with ease. In their four fall games they went 4-0, scoring over 40 points a contest. Using a strong forward pack filled with hard runners has been one of the keys to their sustained success. NOVA on the other hand have had a mixed bag. They sit at 1-1, after thumping the Albany Sirens, they fell just short against the Raleigh Venom. With both teams yet to take the field in 2019, there is an element of the unknown to this game. However, if Philadelphia is anywhere near their form from 2018, it will be a hard day’s work for the women of Northern Virginia.

Southern California Women’s Division III: Ventura County Lady Outlaws vs. Fullerton Wolfpack:

Winner takes all this weekend in the third division of women’s play in Southern California. The Ventura County Outlaws look to wrap up the division with one game left in the season; while Fullerton will hope to put the league lead out of the Lady Outlaw’s reach. The Wolfpack are currently sitting on a 3-2 record with 17 points to their name. The Lady Outlaws aren’t too far behind, with a 3-1 record and 16 competition points. If the Lady Outlaws win, they win the competition. If the Wolfpack win and restrict Ventura County from getting any bonus points, they’ll have won. The equation is pretty simple- the execution will be anything but. Fullerton’s formula for success will be getting the ball into the hands of Shea Bancher. The illusive flyhalf has made a habit of fooling defenders all year, crossing the line 12 times in only five games. The Lady Outlaws will need to disrupt the breakdown and push up quickly as a line, giving Bancher as little time as possible to wreak any havoc. Ventura County will fancy their chances of being able to stop the Wolfpack, as they’ve already done so once this year, in a strong 38-28 showing. However, on that occasion it was played at Ventura, so the away fixture could tell another story.

Carolinas Men’s Division III: Cape Fear Rugby vs. Columbia Olde Grey:

Cape Fear and Columbia Olde Grey are two teams looking to keep in touch with their league leaders, Asheville Rugby. With only two games remaining for each team this game is crucial to their chances of winning the title. It has been a year of tremendous resiliency for Cape Fear: from having to deal with the wreckage caused by Hurricane Florence, to having to then dealing with the vandalism of their fields. They’ve shown time and time again, their ability to overcome whatever hurdles are thrown their way. There is now doubt they’ll see this weekend as one more hurdle. It is quite the hurdle as well, Olde Grey have gone 5-1 on the season, in large part due to the play of their forwards. They are a hard hitting and mentally tough team which has seen them through some close encounters. If they are going to win on Saturday, they will need their forwards to dictate the terms, if they can establish themselves at the set piece, Olde Grey should walk away victorious.

Red River Men’s Division III North: Alliance Rugby vs. Dallas Rugby D3:

With three games remaining in the season, time is running out for Dallas Rugby D3 to keep their playoff hopes alive. When they travel to take on undefeated Alliance Rugby, they will face their biggest test, to keep their post season dreams alive. Alliance has been a class above their north pool opponents all year, with a whooping 202 point differential. Dallas D3 on the other hand have been searching for consistency, but if they are able to win their last three games- they could be a shot to sneak their way into the playoffs. If they lose, their season is over.