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In Tucson, Arizona, four of USA’s powers will duke it out for the right to advance to the Division I USA Club Rugby National Championship in Glendale, Colo. on June 3rd. The Austin Huns (9-1) will take on the undefeated San Francisco Golden Gate (13-0) side, while Belmont Shore (11-1) faces Life West (10-3) in the second west regional match.
Austin Huns vs SFGG
The Huns tuned up with a 59-37 win over Rugby Utah after winning its first Red River Conference title. This is the Huns’ first Nationals appearance since its inception in 1972 and is set to join the new professional league, Major League Rugby, in 2018. After blasting through NorCal, SFGG ran by ORSU, 90-0, in the Pacific North Conference final to earn its spot in the quarterfinals. This is the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.
SFGG will take on a star-studded Austin Huns side featuring Eagles Pete Malcolm and Hanco Germishuys. SFGG doesn’t have any current Eagles itself, but after romping through one of USA’s top divisions, the squad will have no lack of confidence against the Huns. Its closest match of the season was a 15-point win over Olympic Club back in March.
It’s been awhile since SFGG has been a full participant in the DI scene having spent the past several years in the PRP and Super League. SFGG won the Super League in 2011, the Elite Cup in 2013, the PRP in 2014 and was runners-up in the ‘15 and ‘16 PRP finals before finishing third in this year’s California Cup.
“We have a side full of naturally talented players who like to play an attacking brand of rugby,” said SFGG coach Neil Foote. Coach Foote will lean on his flankers Danny Laprovette and Brendan Daly to set the defensive tone against this professional-level Huns side. “They just have huge engines and their work rate is non-stop. Danny brings a real hard edge to our defense which encourages others to put their bodies on the line,” explained Foote.
Though there is no head-to-head familiarity between the clubs, the Huns are expecting a hard-hitting match from SFGG. “We know they’re a classy, brutal, and very physical team,” said Huns’ coach Eugene Eloff. “We will not underestimate them and have identified areas where we can attack.”
Eloff identified strong defense and tactical offense as the keys that will carry his team forward. “We have a few basic patterns that we can implement and execute during a game,” Eloff explained. “[We’ll need to be] clinical and accurate in attack, solid in defense, and enjoy the journey.”
Foote is looking for his team to play possession rugby and execute around the ruck. “We need to look after the ball and be disciplined around the breakdown. If we take our opportunities and are staunch in defense we will give ourselves a fair chance. But we know we need to have an outstanding performance [to advance].”
Belmont Shore vs Life West
Pacific South champion Belmont Shore takes on its California Cup rival, Life West, who earned entrance to the dance via the West Repechage match. The winner will face the victors of SFGG-Austin Huns with a trip to the DI National Championship on the line.
Having faced off in the aforementioned Cal Cup, there will be few surprises between these two west coast nemeses. Life West won that match in December of last year, 27-20. The Gladiators had to survive a second-half assault as Belmont nearly came back from a 22-point halftime deficit. Belmont Shore’s last Nationals appearance was in 2015 and the club notched a DI National Championship as recently as 2012. Belmont played in the PRP from 2014-16 and finished fourth in this year’s California Cup.
“Belmont’s a well-coached team with Ray Egan at the helm,” said Life West coach Adriaan Ferris. “They will be determined and will work extremely hard for one another. They have some effective ball carriers up front and tenacious backs who defend well.”
Life West is bolstered by scrummy Devereaux Ferris, who’s been pushing the pace all year, as well as the powerful running of eightman Maka Tameilau and outside center Mone Tonga’uiha. Since its foundation in late 2013, the Gladiators won the DII National Championship in 2015 and were a DI Semifinalist last season. Life West, unfortunately, lost the Cal Cup final against OMBAC in January but refocused and now find themselves back in the National Quarterfinals with a chance to “run the gauntlet” with a DI championship.
Egan’s SFGG squad hopes to continue the formula that saw it run past most of its competition throughout the spring in NorCal. “We like to play an open brand of physicality matched with a high-tempo, continuity game,” said Egan. “I think [our success] has come down to us getting better every game and week. The depth of our squad has been big for us; being able to bring in players that can finish games with tempo has helped us all season.”
Belmont Shore is led by the dangerous lock combination of Keni Nasoqeqe and Rob Newcomb, who combined for nineteen tries on the season. Ed Pitts and Sione Masoe have stood out on the defensive side of the ball and been keys to Belmont’s success.
While the Gladiators are close to returning to the Final Four, where they bowed out to the Austin Blacks last season, they are not looking past this dangerous Belmont club. “[We have] to defend well against Belmont Shore’s attacking threats and be willing to work hard and minimize mistakes,” said Ferris.
Similarly, Belmont Shore is eager to face this Pacific North power. “[Life West] is a very well-coached team that utilizes its power and pace out wide very effectively,” said Egan. “We like to pride ourselves as a solid defensive team so being good defensively is a must. We will need a big performance and to play above ourselves to advance, as Life West is a quality side.”
Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for the Potomac Exiles. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.