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A new king will be crowned on Sunday in the USA Rugby Division II Club National Championships as the Tempe Old Devils and the Detroit Tradesmen clash at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. Both clubs enter the finals undefeated and the next victory will be the first title for either squad. Each team sports a different style as Tempe employs a fast quick strike offense and Detroit counters with physical open play taking advantage of its size and speed. The game is scheduled for this Sunday at 2pm MST.
Tempe is no stranger to postseason play as the Old Devils advanced to the title game in 2014 and the Final Four last year. Although Tempe was stopped short of its goal, it is determined to make the third time a charm. This season, the Old Devils has dominated the competition reeling off 13 straight victories averaging 72.5 points a game while only giving up 10.2 points per game.
To get to the championship, the Old Devils defeated the Huntington Beach Unicorns, 44-5, to be the Pacific North representative in the Western National Playoffs in Tucson, Ariz. Once in the quarterfinal round, Tempe ran by the Sacramento Capitals, 46-15, and then earned its spot in Glendale with a 27-6 victory over the Provo Steelers.
According to head coach Junior Fa'aso'o, Tempe is a balanced club, but the true danger comes from the dynamic backline, especially in the back three. “Alex Taefu at #15, Maceo Brown and Lopaka Morris at wings with James Vaifale at outside center all have speed and great counter attacking capabilities.”
This season’s championship run is the result of three years of familiarity and the team bond that has developed over the time. “Three years ago, we lost to Rocky Gorge in the National Championship,” Fa'aso'o said. “Then was a young squad full of talent, but they never had been to that level. Last year, we made another run at the playoffs and lost to the eventual winners, Life West, in overtime. This year, we made it a priority that we learn from previous close calls and use it as motivation to get back in the hunt again.”
To that end, Tempe will play to its strengths and style and use its speed and quickness to run its opponent around the paddock. Former Manu Samoa international sevens player, Will Danielson, leads the Old Devils in their quest for a title. Coach Fa'aso'o considers Danielson the most impactful player on the squad as he “leads by example on and off the pitch and knows how to get the best out of his guys.”
With Detroit on deck on Sunday, Tempe knows that teams from the East Regional are not to be discounted. “I assume they'll be just as hungry as we are,” Fa'aso'o added. “We have to stick to what has worked for us the entire season: trust and the belief in ourselves. That's all you could ask of these guys.”
As for Detroit, this is the Midwest Champions first trip to the DII Finals and how they got there has been amazing. Leading up to the Eastern Regionals in Pittsburgh, Pa., the Tradesmen’s stingy defense had limited its last seven opponents to less than ten points a game.
In Pittsburgh, Detroit turned on the offense and scored a total of 99 points in two games. The National Semifinal was sensational against the Village Lions that concluded with a thrilling come from behind 55-31 overtime win to get to Glendale.
“We all learned a lot about the Tradesmen this season and the character saw us over the line in the East was very special,” head coach Jed Elley said. “Playing together, for each other, and playing patiently to the plan essentially saw us home on Sunday [versus the Village Lions].”
The Tradesmen pride themselves on the respect for the game, their club, their city, and positive response to opportunities or challenges presented to them. Detroit is a big, physical team, but looks to use its swiftness and speed to play an open game. “Playing to our plan is important,” Elley stated. “It's about accurate and effective execution of what we know we can do. We have a good blend of donkey and champagne. We can mix it up appropriately and attack the space.”
The Tradesmen have relied on the full 23 to push their performance to another level this season. While playing as a team is the main strength of the club, eightman Conrad Bontrager and outside center Sonny Hafoka stand out as the heavy hitters on both sides of the ball. Wing Adam Saad is an ace with the boot and reserve back Ismail Bazzi is a finisher off the bench.
Detroit is looking forward to the opportunity and challenge on Sunday against Tempe. “[The Old Devils] were finalists last year, they are a good rugby team, and we expect a battle in which we will be ready to compete,” Elley commented. “We need to play to our strengths, keep possession for long periods/many phases, defend ruthlessly, while remaining disciplined and express ourselves in all areas the great game has to offer.”