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The St. Louis Bombers host Tulsa Saturday in a battle of the undefeated in the West-Central league. The Bombers’ undefeated record is more impressive, as St. Louis stands at 4-0 having beaten every team in the league other than Tulsa, while Tulsa is just 1-0. Still, Tulsa is the reigning West-Central and West champ.
The only common opponent for Saturday’s combatants so far this season is the St. Louis Ramblers, who the Bombers crushed 40-3 and Tulsa edged 28-20.
“Yeah, but I know Tulsa is a strong side,” said Bombers coach John McBride. “Last fall we put up 55 points on them only to lose to them in the challenge match the next spring, so we’re definitely not going to take them lightly.”
Tulsa, like many teams who make deep playoff runs, is experiencing a youth movement.
“We had a change of guard this year, kind of shook out some of the older players, so we ran on some of the young bloods,” said Tulsa coach Steve Ingram. “It’s going to be a tough battle for them (Saturday). They’ve definitely got the talent to do it. It’s just whether they can put it together on the day.”
Tulsa’s young talent is primarily home grown, as Rugby Oklahoma, the state’s high school league, has ballooned to 12 teams. Most of them are in the greater Tulsa area.
“They’re a bunch of guys that are coming back out of the colleges. They funneled through the high school program into college and are coming out of college,” said Ingram.
“They’ve only got four or five years of college and high school rugby underneath them. They’re a little bit inexperienced. They’ve got the talent, but they need a couple of years of grooming. I figure if we break even this year we’ll be doing well, but we’ll definitely be a tough team next year.”
One of the new talents is John Moore, who gave up football at Northeast Oklahoma to play rugby. Before joining any men’s club or playing competitively at all, Moore made the 11-hour drive with his brother to Denver to try out at the West 7s combine this summer. He recorded the combine’s fastest 40 time.
“He’s got unbelievable talent. He’s got lots of speed,” said Moore. “He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve seen come through Tulsa in a long time.”
The Bombers boast most of the same players from last year's squad, which is a good thing, but they have upgraded significantly at flyhalf, scooping up Davey Stephenson, who moved to the area to take a graduate assistant job with the varsity Lindenwood program. Stephenson, from Australia, spent some time in the Brumbies Academy.
Last season the five-team West-Central pitted each team against each other once before a four-team playoff at the end of the season. This season, with the addition of the St. Louis Royals, the six-team competition features a home-and-away schedule. That makes holding serve at home Saturday very important for the Bombers.
“It’s extremely important, because the way I look at it, we have to travel to Omaha and Tulsa, we’ve got to get as many points as we can this fall, because we know Omaha’s going to be tough in Omaha, and Tulsa’s tougher in the spring than they are in the fall,” said McBride. “We know in the spring it’s going to be extremely difficult for us.”