You are here
PRO Rugby kicks off this weekend, so the competitiveness of each team will be decided on the field soon, but not soon enough for us to avoid peering at the rosters to see who might be considered favorites or underdogs.
The team most glaringly stratified from the others appears to be Sacramento, evidenced by a narrow win over the Sacramento Blackhawks in a scrimmage last week. Granted, the Blackhawks had some pros in their side.
Sacramento boasts some very accomplished internationals. Half of what is likely to be the starting pack is capped – Ray Barkwill (Canada), Kyle Sumsion (USA), Olive Kilifi (USA) and John Quill (USA). Center Mirco Bergamasco has almost 100 caps for Italy. But Sacramento has the fewest international players by far.
According to our count, including those who have played for their senior national team sides in 15s or 7s (we included Dominick Waldouck and Filippo Ferrarini, who played for England’s and Italy’s second sides, respectively), Ohio has 11 international-caliber players, San Diego 14, Denver 11 and San Francisco nine.
Not only does Sacramento have basically half the international talent of its contemporaries, it relies on nearly double the DI or DII club personnel of any other team. Extracting the capped DI players, like JP Eloff, David Tameilau, etc., this is our count – Ohio has six DI players and one DII guy, San Diego has none, Denver has three DI guys, and San Francisco has seven DI guys. Sacramento has 11 DI players and two DII players.
On top of that, most of the DI talent across the league comes from top teams, like Gold Cup champs the Austin Blacks, upper level Midwest teams, Northern California-leading Life West, etc. Sacramento has four guys from the Blackhawks, who didn’t even finish in the top four in their local competition.
On the other end, San Diego is stacked. They could have a fully international backline and front row – Hubert Buydens (Canada) and Jake Ilnicki (Canada) at prop, Joe Taufete’e (USA) or Mike Sosene-Feagai (USA) at hooker, Phil Mackenzie (Canada) and Andrew Suniula (USA) in the centers, Tom Bliss (USA) or Mike Te’o (USA) at scrumhalf, Kurt Morath (Tonga) at flyhalf, a fully international deep three with Taku Ngwenya (USA), Ryan Matyas (USA), Tim Stanfill (USA) and Pono Haitsuka (USA 7s) to choose from.
While their signings haven’t been announced by the league, rumblings have Eagle locks Brian Doyle and Tai Tuisamoa set to play for San Diego, too. And expect a contracted 7s guy here or there to be in the mix.
Denver’s tight five will look a lot like that of the Eagles, and quite possibly be the best in the league, with Chris Baumann and Zach Fenoglio up front and Brodie Orth and Ben Landry in the second row. There is also a former Springbok in the back row and a former Wallaby in the backline.
Also going for Denver is the density of players who are familiar with one another. A bulk of the game day lineups will likely include Denver Barbarians and Glendale Raptors who have played with and against each other for years. Given the lack of preseason matches across the board, familiarity may play a significant role, at least early.
Week one sees Ohio play at Denver and San Francisco travel to Sacramento. On paper, it would seem the former is a competitive game and perhaps the latter isn’t.