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After the winning coaches had time to process their DI National Championship victories, Eugene Eloff of the Austin Huns and Jarrod Faul of the Life West Gladiatrix spoke with Rugby Today to discuss their perspective on the club finals. Here is what they had to say.
Rugby Today: What are your initial thoughts on the game?
Eugene Eloff: I knew it was going to be tough and we never underestimated [NYAC]. They had a big advantage of experience playing in the finals. To be honest with you, it was one of the best games I’ve seen in the U.S. since I’ve been here. I could compare it to the Currie Cup in South Africa; it was even better than the Currie Cup final. It was really a great game of rugby. Both teams tried to run the ball, both took each other on physically, it was game on. I thought it was an entertaining game and that is progress with rugby in the U.S.
Jarrod Faul: Our preparation going into the game was solid and we did an effective job sticking to the game plan in the first half. We delivered the ball swiftly at the breakdowns and the ball movement was superb. Our team's goal was to play a fast expansive game and the ladies did a phenomenal job executing that. In the second half, Raleigh did an exceptional job of pinning us in our 22 through their tactical kicking and aggressive line speed pressure. We made the game somewhat difficult for ourselves by not sticking to our exit strategies and with Raleigh's tenacious defense, we ended up throwing some 50/50 passes that resulted in turnovers. Overall, it was a great game to end the season with and couldn't be more proud of the ladies for their championship win.
RT: What was the key to the victory?
EE: Both teams never stopped playing. We won a few games this year in the last few minutes and when they scored that try with six minutes left, I watched them and there was a calmness and a confidence in the team that they could win it. From there, it was phase after phase after phase and we scored the try. The experience of being under pressure with a few minutes to go and they didn’t panic prepared the Huns for this game and was key to the win.
NYAC tends to overpower teams physically and they couldn’t overpower us. We actually scrummed them into pieces and our mauls were good. The scrums were a big psychological breakthrough for us. In defense, we missed a few silly tackles, but the defense was pretty solid and, tactically, we played smart especially in the second half.
JF: Our forwards were superb in the set pieces, particularly against the feed. Additionally, they gave us some significant carries to get us over the gain line that gave us a great platform to attack from. We identified that Raleigh weren't attacking the rucks, so it was about being patient, building the phases and taking the opportunities when they arose. We were also able to capitalize on their yellow card, scoring 17 points.
RT: Whose play had the most impact in the game and why?
JF: Mele Taumoefolau's try in the first minute set the tone for us. We were relentless in pushing the pace in the first half scoring six tries. Bitsy Cairns was named MVP and she was instrumental for us in the lineouts, offensively and defensively. She got through a heavy workload, had some great carries, made some dominant tackles and was menacing at the breakdown.
EE: Todd Clever played like a USA captain when he came on the field and was phenomenal. He made tackles, he carried the ball, he offloaded and had a huge influence on the calmness of the team, especially in the forwards. In the backline, Tim [Guillimin], our flyhalf, and Lomani [Tongotongo] really stood out... I’m happy Hanco [Germishuys] got the MVP because of his high work rate. We give our players efficiency rates and he usually has the highest work rate of all. Throughout the season, Hanco was consistently the best player.
RT: What is next for your club and what challenges does that bring?
JF: The next step is to challenge for a spot in the Women’s Premier League at the end of their season in November. The WPL presents much stronger competition, a challenge this club is assuredly ready for.
EE: Holiday. We are going to give the guys a break, but in a week’s time, the Bloodfest 7s starts. We are already planning the 2018 season. We will work out a strategy of recruitment and warm-up matches... Major League Rugby begins next season. We need to make a step up from where we are now. We know a team like Glendale is the benchmark. We are very excited for this transformation period... We will also enroll a DI team in our conference and act as a feeder program to the MLR side. Our younger players from the area will play on DI and that is the pathway to the MLR side.
RT: What does this Championship mean to the club?
JF: It gives us more exposure in our ambition to be one of the nation's leading women's program. The ultimate goal is to become an elite program.
EE: Personally, this is one of the highlights of my career. When I won the World Championship against New Zealand with the South African Baby Boks (South Africa U-19 squad), I worked with the cream of the county which was all top players. We expected to do well. When I started here, nobody gave us a chance. The Huns have never really been in contention for the DI trophy. To me personally, I was even more ecstatic than winning the World Cup. We had to build from the ground to get here and the great thing was to see how this team grew in stature, confidence, and ability. For the club, it was wonderful and special. With the championship, there is a new responsibility. When you are the champ, you have a target on your back and everybody is going to come for you. We have to on top of everything: our planning our preparation, everything is connected. First of all, we are going to enjoy the win and take a break.