Club Rugby Saturday Six Pack: Geographic Union Championships Heat Up Race to Nationals

Regional Semifinals and Geographic Unions' Championships all set the stage for an exciting weekend of teams and their attempts at qualification for the Club National Championship Series.

Empire Men’s Division II Championship: Buffalo Rugby vs. New York Rugby Club:

One of the most exciting matchups of the playoff season is here, with Buffalo Rugby and New York Rugby Club meeting in the championship match for the Empire Men’s Division II. Both teams have been historic fixtures in the Empire Geographic Union, however, neither has been able to parlay their local success into success on the national stage. This year both teams have a real shot at landing themselves a national championship. Unfortunately, only team will be able advance from the match.

Buffalo has quietly been getting stronger and stronger over the past few seasons and this year looks to have been the year where everything has clicked for them. The cohesion and the promise which they’ve demonstrated this year comes down to redifing the team’s culture according to coach, Stephen Caruana. “Rebuilding the culture of the club. We’ve been around since 1966, and we’ve had some great teams and playoff runs. Our defense has been really good. We’ve played some tough teams and every time we’ve been able to step up to the challenge and we hope to do it again against a tough New York side.”  

New York Rugby Club, is having a special year of their own. After having just celebrated their 90th anniversary, they’ve taken the Empire playoffs by storm. Qualifying as the 5th seed, it would have been fair to assume they would not have been making a run this deep; however, they’ve proven themselves in the last two weeks to be a serious threat nationally. Part of their ability to make such a deep run has been the strength and depth they’ve developed.  “We’ve got an incredible squad depth,” noted team captain Joe Blomfield.  For the first time in my memory, we’ve been able to put out three full teams consistently.”

The regular season is usually a long and arduous period for a team, where the weekly trials and tribulations each squad faces helps them learn something new about themselves. The playoffs exponentially increase those learning moments. Both teams have learned invaluable lessons throughout their campaigns so far, but the most important lesson they’ve learned is ensure nothing is taken for granted. Caruana noted, they simply have to “Take it one game at a time.” Blomfield also mentioning, “[We] Don’t want to look too far past the next game.”

Both teams possess fly halves that are masters of their craft. However, they also possess back rowers that have proven themselves to be game changes. Caruana explaining “Back row  guys have been doing really well. We have a new fly half this season, Luca Wrabetz, he’s made the ten spot his own this year. James Stewart our number eight has been a tackling machine, he must have made 20 tackles last weekend.”

Similarly, Blomfield sang the praises of his fly half and number eight as well. “Our Flyhalf Andrew Magowan has been a stand out for us, and we’ve had some strong forwards this year as well. Max Pats, went away for a while, but has just come back and he’s been superb.” He also noted the key presence of  Keegan Dufty, who has been superb in the line outs.

Each team knows that the other presents a unique and challenging task on Saturday, but both feel comfortable in their knowledge of what will be thrown at them and how they’ll handle the challenges. Buffalo knows New York is not a club to be taken lightly, despite their 5th seeding, they also know to expect a strong backline. New York is expecting a strong defensive minded side. However, each believes if they can stick to their individual game plans, they will be able to survive the weekend.

Northern California Men’s Division II Championship Game: Santa Rosa Rugby vs. Olympic Club Rugby:

In their first year in division II, after having been in the Pacific Rugby Premiership and other variations of Division I rugby, the Olympic Club Rugby program has found its way into the Northern California Championship match against the number 1 seed, Santa Rosa. Both teams have had impressive seasons, Santa Rosa going 7-1 and the Olympic Club going 6-2. Despite their inferior record, the Olympic Club will be optimistic heading into the weekend; as in their prior encounter, the Olympic Club handed Santa Rosa their only loss of the season, 33-31. On that occasion, Santa Rosa seemed to have control of the match with as they held two separate ten point leads. However, two second half tries to Paul Saccomanno pulled Olympic back into the match. Saccomanno has been their danger man most of the year, along with Mark Bowers, the two of them combining for 24 tries on the season. Expect Olympic Club to get the ball in these two playmakers’ hands as often as possible. Santa Rosa has a 12 try scorer of their own in Joe Cakau. In their previous outing his impact was nullified, if Olympic want to repeat their prior efforts they will once again have to start with shutting Cakau down.


Mid-Atlantic Men’s Division II Playoffs: Old Gaelic Rugby vs. Philadelphia Whitemarsh Rugby:

Men’s Division II playoffs begin in earnest this weekend, and there are some tantalizing matchups right off the bat. What looks to be the pick of the bunch in the opening round, is Old Gaelic, the #2 seed, taking on Philadelphia Whitemarsh, the #3 seed. These two have met once before in the regular season, with Old Gaelic winning the nail-biter, 26-23. That game was somewhat bizarre, as the final points of the match were scored in the 49th minute. The match also saw Whitemarsh, squander a 13 point lead in the space of three minutes. One of the big differences between these two teams, is Old Gaelic’s ability to score points in a hurry and Philadelphia’s, comparatively, stagnant offense. However, Philadelphia Whitemarsh have proven capable of keeping Old Gaelic in check before, the key to winning this match will be doing it for the full eighty minutes. If Old Gaelic can establish a two more score lead in the early stages, chances are Philadelphia Whitemarsh will have a hard time playing catchup.  


Empire Women’s Division II Playoffs: Brooklyn Rugby vs. Uticuse Hellbenders:

In a matchup few expected to see a week ago, the 5th seed, Brooklyn Rugby, will take on the 8th seed, Uticuse Hellbenders. The Hellbenders were able to give the Danbury Mad Hatters their first loss of the season last weekend; while Brooklyn proved it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, as they took down the Village Lions after having lost to them the previous two outings. This semifinal matchup will prove to an exciting fixture, as both teams can light up the scoreboard. Uticuse has scored at least 30 points in their last three games. While Brooklyn, has averaged close to 40 points a match over the season. This will be a tough task for both teams. With Uticuse having to make the long trip down, there could be a built in advantage for Brooklyn, although the travel clearly did not impact the Hellbenders last weekend.


Rocky Mountain Women’s Division I: Glendale Merlins D1 vs. Utah Vipers:

In a top of the table clash for the crown of Frontier Women’s Division I champions, the Glendale Merlins D1 will welcome the Utah Vipers into town. A traditional rivalry that has been lopsided of late, will etch another story into its annals this weekend. Glendale are coming in hot after winning their last competitive match against Black Ice 31-27. However, they will be running into a Utah Vipers team that has run havoc on their opponents throughout the Spring. The Vipers are a team that have historically been more susceptible to a loss when they travel, but that vulnerability seems to be a thing of the past. Through the season, they have won their away matches by a combined 223 points. If Glendale are to put a stop to this incredible run, they will need to put in a complete performance from all 15 players on the field. The backline will be led by one of the most formidable halves pairings in the country, in Jess Dombrowski at scrum half and Hannah Tennant at fly half. Dombrowski was the team MVP last year, while Tennant enjoyed a storied career at Davenport, and has since enjoyed a smooth transition into Division I play. The forwards will be led by Madison Sheveland, their number eight who has been the MVP in the previous two outings and new recruit Carissa Rojas, who has joined the Merlins from the Chicago Lions at the beginning of the Spring. It should be an entertaining match and one both teams feel will very confident entering.

Empire Men’s Division III Championship: Buffalo Rugby D3 vs. Long Island Rugby:

Continuing their impressive season as a club, the Buffalo Rugby D3 squad will be making an appearance in the Empire Division III championship. They will face last year’s national runner-up, Long Island Rugby. Neither team’s presence in the championship is particularly surprising, given they were the first and second seed heading into the playoffs. This is the first time the teams have met and it promises to be an enthralling match. Neither side has lost all year, and during the regular season they didn’t come close. However, Buffalo D3 has been fighting tooth and nail to win their games in the post season. This could wind up benefiting the men from Western New York, as when the going gets tough they’ll have the resolve to get through the choppy waters. Long Island, who has not been tested all year, could struggle if they do not come out and dominate. Regardless of this, both teams are enormously talented and will provide a great game of rugby.