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It will be the Atlantic North against the Red River in the USA Rugby Division III Club National Championship as the Fairfield Yankees face the Euless Texans on Sunday at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. The undefeated Euless Texans play a physical, disciplined brand of rugby, while Fairfield leads through its dominant forwards play, especially in the set piece. It all goes down on Sunday at noon to decide who sits atop the DIII throne.
The last time the Fairfield Yankees were in this situation was in 2004 when they won the DII National Championship over Nashville, 23-3. A lot has changed in twelve years and the Yankees celebrated their 40th anniversary last year. Over that time, Fairfield has built a culture of winning, but also gained the support and commitment of an entire community who will be cheering them on this weekend.
As for this year’s squad, head coach David Lyme indicated that his team’s strength is its fitness and technical skill from #1 to #15. The blueprint for victory is simple: “We are going to execute the game plan that has got us this far. We will starve the opponent of possession by tackling aggressively and creating opportunities for turnovers both in open play and set pieces.”
As the Atlantic North Champion, they advanced to the East Regionals in Pittsburgh, Pa. with a 45-7 win over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the National Quarterfinal and Semifinal, Fairfield ripped through Rocky Gorge and the Bremer County Bucks, respectively, with a combined score of 84-32 to reach the title game.
While flyhalf Matt Leonard leads the team in tries and outside center Karl Rempe is the man with the golden boot, every player on the squad has their role on the pitch. “One of our mantras this year has been for each of us to play the number on our back. Every player has an impact if they do this,” Lyme remarked.
Going into the Sunday’s final, Fairfield has chosen to prepare as it has all season. “We decided soon after winning the East National Semifinal that we would continue approaching our opposition the same way we have all season – by not focusing on them,” Lyme said. “We had never prepared much with scouting or watching film prior to the final, so we see no reason to change now... We know we are in for a match. You don’t make it to the final match without being a team who can beat us or take advantage of us at any moment.”
The Yankees have been training for this moment all season. “We have maximized our potential for success on every level of our organization,” Lyme added. “We need to play the numbers on our back and play our game plan. If we do this, we are confident that we will be successful. We will leave the field knowing we did everything in our power to win.”
On the other side of the ball is the undefeated Euless Texans who are confident in their chances to win their first ever National Championship. Their physical style of defense has shined all season giving up less than seven points a game, including seven shutouts in a difficult Red River Conference schedule. As for the offense, the Texans dominated the competition amassing 889 total points in 14 games with a devastating +798 point differential.
Head coach Robert Tevi singled out his captain/flyhalf Melvin Pauni and inside center Eric Fieilo as his difference makers on the squad. “Pauni motivates the team and holds them together. A very smart player and one of the most experienced as he also can pick apart the opponent’s defense. In his first year of playing rugby after playing linebacker for Sam Houston State University, Fieilo sets the tone on defense. The team feeds off of his intensity as he is very explosive when running the ball.”
Although Euless dominated during the regular season, it did encounter stout challenges in the West Regionals in Tucson, Ariz. In the quarterfinal and semifinal against the St. Louis Royals and Napa Valley, the Texans had to fight back from deficits to emerge victorious. “I learned that my team has pride and heart for each other,” Tevi stated. “We were down in both the quarterfinal and semifinal and came from behind to win both games. We may not be as experienced as these other teams, but these boys fight for each other.”
The key to success for the Texans this season is commitment and family. "The one thing we have focused on this year is family," Tevi stated. "We have based our program around this rugby family. It gives our guys the drive to want it more. To fight hard with their brothers on the field and be committed to one another. More than half of my team is new to rugby. What makes them special is they wanna learn and get better."
With the DIII Final on Sunday against Fairfield, Tevi is ready for the opportunity to showcase his team’s talents on the national stage. “I don’t know much about the Fairfield Yankees. We have much respect for them and will stick to our plan... We just need to take care of the ball and stay disciplined. I’m confident the boys will play well this weekend and I’m not worried at all.”