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Austin Huns vs NYAC in the DI Men's Club Final. Norma Salinas Photo.

Five new champions were crowned this past weekend at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. at the USA Rugby Emirate Airline Club National Championships. In the Saturday Division I matches, the Life West Gladiatrix dispatched the Raleigh Venom, 39-17, and the Austin Huns came back to beat NYAC, 27-23, in the final minutes of the men’s final. On Sunday, the St. Louis Royals beat the Bremer County Bucks, 29-19, for the men’s DIII title, the Milwaukee Scylla edged SFGG, 16-15, to win the women’s DII trophy, and Life doubled up the St. Louis Bombers, 50-24, to capture the men’s DII crown.

DI Women’s Championship – Life West Gladiatrix vs Raleigh Venom

After winning the DII Women’s Championship last season, the Life West Gladiatrix were promoted to DI and ripped through their opponents to reach the title game this season. Against the Raleigh Venom, Life West played its closest match of the season and emerged the 39-17 victors.

The Gladiatrix drew first blood with a try by Mele Taumoefolau, but Raleigh responded with a converted try by Cerrin Eldridge to take the 7-5 lead. Jennifer Sever scored for Life West a minute later and Chelsea Garber evened the tally at 10-10 half way through the first half.

A Raleigh yellow card in the 21st minute opened the door for Life West to pounce. With the man advantage, the Gladiatrix scored three times as Mirelle Raza, Megan Foster, and Atumata Hingano crossed the whitewash to extend the lead to 27-10. Raleigh attempted to break its opponent’s momentum once it was back to full strength, but Life West’s Hall Deters built on her team’s lead before halftime at 34-10.

The Venom refocused at halftime by concentrating on defense and making positive gains on offense. Raleigh’s Megan Gilmore got the ball rolling in the 50th minute to cut the margin to 17 points, but that would be the last points for the North Carolina club. Life West effectively killed off a yellow card starting in the 62nd minute and Catherine Benson scored a shorthanded try to put the game out of reach. Stout defense by the Gladiatrix closed out the match and gave the California squad its second championship in as many years.

DI Men’s Championship – Austin Huns vs New York Athletic Club

In the late game on Saturday, the much-anticipated bout between the Austin Huns and the New York Athletic Club was everything the match was hyped to be. The match was neck and neck and came down to a masterful final ten minutes of rugby. NYAC took the lead with ten minutes left after trailing for most of the day, but the Huns remained calm. Down by three points with precious time remaining, the Huns found themselves deep in NYAC’s territory and after a surging run by captain Lomani Tongotongo, the ball was spun wide where Sani Taylor dove over the line for the game–winning try to win 27-23.

NYAC played keep away for the first 15 minutes of the match and connected on two penalties by Harry Bennett for the early 6-0 lead. Austin answered with a Timothee Guillimin penalty and Peter Malcolm for the game’s first try off a lineout maul to forwards ball. The score remained at 10-6 until the end of the half when the Huns found an overload on the wing as Martin Knoetze offloaded to eightman Deon Minnaar for the try. Guillimin connected on the conversion for the 17-10 halftime advantage.

After a bit of back and forth play to open the half, NYAC were threatening inside the Huns’ 22 before a penalty gave the ball back to Austin. On the ensuing lineout, NYAC stole the ball and was spun wide where Chris Mattina dummied his way to a 30-meter try. Bennett chipped in the conversion and slotted a penalty five minutes later cut the lead to one point, 17-16, in the 49th minute.

At this point, each side began to bring in their impact substitutes, most notably Todd Clever for the Huns. A PK in the 67th minute gave Austin a bit of breathing room setting up the final minutes of the match. Three minutes later, NYAC tested the Austin defense swinging the ball from sideline to sideline. Following a penalty advantage and some nifty offloading on the wing, Gareth Gibbs scored in the corner to give NYAC the one point advantage. Bennett added the conversion with a difficult shot from the sideline to extend it to 23-20.

In the final ten minutes under the lights at Infinity Park, the Huns started their final push for the trophy with a lineout over 70 meters from the tryline. With great passing and a bruising run by Hanco Germishuys, Austin set up shop with a lineout at the 22. The maul off the lineout was brought inside the 22 and passed to Tongotongo who lumbered to the five before being tackled. The ball was quickly passed out to the wing where Knoetze offloaded to Taylor for the score. Guillimin’s conversion extended it to 27-23 meaning NYAC needed a try to win the match.

Both squads never quit and continued their physical battle until the final whistle. Following a stolen ball, NYAC got to within 20 meters of the line when the referee stopped the game for a penalty review.  After determining that the call was against NYAC, the referee blew the whistle for the final time signifying a Huns’ victory and their first ever National Championship.

DIII Men’s Championship – St. Louis Royals vs Bremer County Bucks

The first game on Sunday was the DIII final that ended with the St. Louis Royals capping off their undefeated season with a 29-19 over the Bremer County Bucks. Discipline issues plagued both sides of the ball as the referee's whistle was heard loudly and often. With a total of four yellow cards in the match, the Royals used their opportunities to their advantage from which the Bucks couldn’t recover.

St. Louis was first on the board with a Ty Turner try and then capitalized on a Bucks yellow with a Tadhg Leader penalty and a Jason Schulte try to lead 15-0 after 20 minutes. Bremer was able to kill off a second yellow and got back into the match when Eric Whitcome scored a shorthanded try in the 29th minute. The tally remained at 15-7 until the break.

Bremer began the half with the man advantage but was unable to put in a score. Once back at full strength, St. Louis dotted down back-to-back tries by Leader and Stephen Duff to bring the score to 29-7 with 25 minutes left.

Bremer showed some life late with a Grant Steffen try at the 62nd minute and a Ryan Saunders try in the 79th. With the next stoppage after the restart ending the game, the Bucks once again challenged for the tryline almost reaching the destination before a penalty called the contest to completion. With the final whistle, the St. Louis Royals celebrated their first DIII National Championship.

DII Women’s Championship – Milwaukee Scylla vs San Francisco Golden Gate

In the closest match of the championship series, the Milwaukee Scylla held onto a 16-15 advantage for most of the second half to win the DII Women’s Final. Abigail Williams was awarded the MVP trophy after scoring two tries and two penalties for all of Milwaukee’s points.

The Scylla built an 8-0 lead with a penalty and try by Williams before SFGG’s Erika Haro try slashed the tally to three points. Another PK by Williams extended the score to 11-5 and SFGG responded with a try by Sara Maurer to take the 12-11 lead.

The SFGG lead was short lived as it found itself down a player following a yellow card. Milwaukee used the opportunity to allow Williams to score her second try just before the end of the first half. At the break, the Scylla led 16-12.

SFGG tacked on a Lindsay Kinsler penalty at the beginning of the second half to trail by a single point, however, from there on, the Scylla defense took over. Each side had their chances to add to the scoreboard, but each opportunity proved to be fruitless. SFGG missed a penalty halfway through the period and a potential Scylla try was called back for a forward pass.

A late yellow card by Milwaukee gave SFGG life, but the subsequent penalty attempt was wide. The Scylla defense clamped down in the last few minutes to preserve the 16-15 victory and give Milwaukee its first National Championship.

DII Men’s Championship – Life Running Eagles vs St. Louis Bombers

In a clash between two undefeated teams from the South and Frontier Conferences, the Life University punished the St. Louis Bombers for eight tries to win the DII men’s final, 50-24. Wing Jonathan Poole scored a hat trick, while game MVP David Gannon put in two more. The Bombers did their best against the Running Eagles’ relentless attack, but ultimately lost to Life’s experience and athletic ability.

St. Louis's Keegan Neal got the game rolling with a penalty in the fifth minute, but Life exerted its dominance in the next 30 minutes scoring the next 24 points. It was the Poole and Gannon show during that period as both players scored two tries with Johannes Gericke converting two of them. The Bombers struck back in late in the half as Eric Hinson offloaded to Mark Menne to trail 24-10 at intermission.

Things didn’t begin well for Life coming out of the half as it incurred a yellow card in the first four minutes. Unfortunately for St. Louis, being down a man didn’t phase the Running Eagles as they took an intercept try to the house for Poole’s third score.

After Life returned to full strength, the Running Eagles ripped off three consecutive tries before the Bombers could respond in the late stages of the match. Schuyler Whelan, Marcus Walsh, and Weston Mollo scored for Life, while Neal and Colin Fitzhenry dotted down tries for the Bombers in the final ten minutes. When the dust settled, Life hoisted the championship trophy for the 50-24 win over St. Louis.