You are here
Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. is the venue once again for the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men’s Club Nationals Quarterfinals. Twenty teams will gather at the pitch for two days of competition to decide the East Finalists.
For the Men’s Division I, four clubs from the Midwest, Atlantic North, and Mid-Atlantic will travel to the pitch looking to advance to the National Championships on June 4th in Glendale, Colo. The action kicks off at 5:00 pm on Saturday with Old Blue taking on Rocky Gorge and Metropolis facing Mystic River. Both games will be streamed live on USARugbyTV.com.
Of the four clubs vying to be the Eastern Regional Finalist, there is a Minnesota titan ripe with talent ready to explode, the Co-American Rugby Premiership Champion, a returning giant that placed second in the grueling Atlantic North, and the undefeated upstart in its first year of DI. Each team is hungry to make the final, but will first have to battle through a brutal two-day event that tests the depth, determination, and fortitude of the clubs.
Two clubs from the ultra-competitive Atlantic North qualified for the National Quarterfinals as Old Blue of New York won the conference with a 7-1 record. The team was named Co-ARP Champions after beating Life in the final match of the season. Old Blue picked up quality wins over NYAC, Mystic River, and Life and attributed its success to the team’s depth in filling crucial positions and sticking to the game plan when dealing with tough situations on the field.
Old Blue was undefeated at home and assistant coach Ash Moeke said, “the main strength for Old Blue has been our consistency at home games when we have stuck to our structures which have helped us to get to where we are going this weekend.” The last home game of the season was the season finale against Life, which Moeke called the standout moment of the season. “The game against Life [was key] as we hadn't beaten them in three years. That day, we played very well and it showed we can compete with the top teams.”
Old Blue is an experienced squad sporting Eagles in play-making positions. Luke Hume at fullback and James Bird at flyhalf have been vital to the success of the club. “Hume with his counter attack has gotten us out of tough situations and he's been performing at another level this year,” Moeke stated. “James Bird’s experience in putting us in the right areas of the field has been paramount to our success.” In the forwards, No. 8 Alex Schwarz does a lot of the dirty work and lock Sam Scroggins carries the rock hard with physical intensity.
Regarding its opponent on Saturday, Moeke commented, “We know that [Rocky Gorge] has a strong forward pack and a ten that kicks goals from anywhere. We expect a tough game across the park.” When asked what Old Blue needs to do win advance to the finals, Moeke responded, “it’s a tough weekend of rugby playing games on Saturday and Sunday, we can't take nothing for granted. We have put ourselves in a good position and we must take this opportunity.”
After enormous success in Division II, Rocky Gorge has risen to the next challenge graduating to DI this season. Gorge took the Mid-Atlantic by storm going undefeated and beat Boston and NYAC in preseason matches. The numbers have been impressive as Gorge has scored over 750 points, has a 642 point differential, averaged 43 points a game, and has allowed nine points per game to its opponents.
According to head coach Nick DiMichele, defense and depth have been key. “The foundation of our team has been our defense. We work a lot on our system: the guys know their role and do their job. The work rate must increase and every man holds themselves accountable and to a high standard.” As for the depth, “we had a lot of injuries from beginning to end. We have yet to field the same 23 players on a roster, as well as, the same combination of backs over the last 10 games. A lot of our points come once we empty our bench. The fresh legs gives a huge push and take control over the last 20 minutes.”
The same core group of players have been together since the clubs first DII National Championship in 2012. “We've got an experienced pack who have been playing with each other for a long time,” DiMichele said. “Our tight five has an unusual skill set that give us an edge. Our backs are young, fast, and dangerous. We have a lot of speed and these last few games, everything has been falling in to place.”
In the forwards, captain/No.8 Josh Brown and prop Brady Smith are bruisers and are a load to bring down. USA Rugby U20 sniper Ben Cima will make teams pay with his boot and Nick Kuhl, Matias Cima, and Michael Tillman fill out a dynamic backline.
Rocky Gorge may have drawn the toughest task of the weekend in Old Blue, but DiMichele will have his team ready. “They are Co-Champions of the ARP. Old Blue has a lot of experienced players, several capped Eagles, and have been playing the top teams on the east coast. We expect a physical game with a fast pace.”
In order to be successful this weekend, DiMichele commented, “We need to get the ball in our playmaker’s hands and work our defensive system. Limit the mistakes and penalties and turn their errors into points. Old Blue is well rested and looking to get back on the pitch. We just have to play our game and contain them.”
After missing out on the National Playoffs last season, Metropolis is back and ready to represent the Midwest in Pittsburgh. The Minneapolis, Minn. club has endured a difficult season with hard fought losses in the Gold Cup to the Dallas Reds and Austin Blacks and during the season against the Chicago Lions. Metropolis rallied to beat the Kansas City Blues, 19-13, in the Midwest Semifinal and clinched the playoff spot by edging the Chicago Griffins, 29-24.
The turning point of the season for Metropolis was a losing a close game to the Milwaukee Barbarians after leading by 22 points. According to head coach Nate Osborne, “ It really got us to re-focus and get our exceptions/goals for the season out in the open. It helped us to train harder and finish the back ends of games. KC and Griffins were very close late, but we knew what we needed to do to finish them both.”
Metropolis is a young team that is systems-dependent in its attack-defend philosophy. “For most of the club, it's the first time they've played in a system-based team,” head coach Nathan Osborne said. “So, if your not doing your role, it can hurt the rest of the team. As the spring has gone on, we’ve become better at sticking to the systems and it's paid off for us late in the year.”
Metropolis has taken its hits to its player pool as PRO Rugby and injuries have had an impact. Starters Alipate Takiveikata and Joeli Tikoisuva joined Sacramento and Derrick Van Klein is now playing for Ohio. Additionally, Eagle LeMoto Fillikitonga and Nick Barrett went down with season ending injuries. To fill the holes, Metropolis has had to dig deep and play high schoolers, Simeon Tschumper, Zach Haley, and Pita Naruma, and recent University of the Minnesota-Duluth graduates, Logan Hanson, Teddy Buntrock, Cody Christensen, and Trace Bolstad, in starting positions.
Coach Osborne expects a fight to advance to the finals in Glendale. “[Mystic River] is a very good team and their coach Josh Smith is a very good. I know he is excited about his team and I know we need to be very physical and win the collision or they could run tries in from anywhere on the field... We need to play outstanding rugby for 160 minutes. We can't let up for even one minute or we could be going home empty. We feel good about what we know we can do and if we do those things, it will fall in to place for us. We can't leave Pittsburgh with any ‘what if's or if only's’”.
The only thing standing in their way is Mystic River. As the lone returning entrant from last season’s Eastern Regionals, Mystic River enjoyed a 6-2 record in the Atlantic North splitting its four games against Old Blue and NYAC. The 32-17 win over Old Blue in late April clinched Mystic its spot in Nationals and was the signature moment of the season.
After merging with Middlesex a couple years ago, the benefits are coming to fruition. With the veteran leadership and core of the first side playing together for some time now, head coach Josh Smith said, “this season, we asked players to be more accountable for their decision making and used film sessions to address these points. This has helped our guys develop a new system fairly quickly. It has also has helped keeping the boys humble and honest.”
Impact players such as back rowers, Jon Kokinda, Joe Shurmaitis, and Sean Rafferty, have set the tempo of the club along with returning backs Alatasi Tupou, Evin O'Driscoll, Chris Frazier, and Jared Collinson. The return of Vini Daley after a season away from the game has also been key to the club’s success.
With Metropolis on deck on Saturday, Smith knows his club will have its hands full. “Metropolis is a well coached side with Nathan Osborne. They had a great spring winning out the difficult Midwest Playoffs with tough victories over KC and Griffins. They are a big and strong side that can punish you if they start running downhill... We need to play with ‘blue heads’, win the contact area, and see what is in front of us.”