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After a grueling weekend at East and West Regionals two weeks ago, the New York Athletic Club and Austin Blacks will battle under the lights at 7:00 p.m. local time Saturday for the 2015 DI Men’s Club National Championship at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. NYAC earned a trip to the final by receiving an automatic bid to the DI postseason as the American Rugby Premiership runner-up, dispatching of the Potomac Exiles in the quarterfinals and edging Mystic River in semifinals. Austin captured the top seed in the Red River and parlayed it into a drubbing of Belmont Shore in the quarters and a close win over the Dallas Reds in the semis.
After coming in second to last year’s DI Champion, Life, in the ARP, NYAC has utilized their fast up-tempo style and experience to get to the final this season. The key to New York's success this season has been the consistency within the playing group and the quality of effort on the training field. The team set goals and kept standards that all players are accountable to.
“It’s that quality of training that has been the key to our success because we got certain players that are not starting for us who have a good case to start,” assistant coach Michael Quinn said. “They are pushing starters the whole time to be performing well for us.”
According to head coach Phil Bailey, the semifinal against Mystic River was a, “War of attrition. Both sides were pretty evenly matched. We lost Al McFarland for the game, which was a big blow. Both teams out on their feet for the back half of the game. We gave away field position and failed to capitalize on chances we were given making the match a real slog fest... We just kept getting up and scrambling for 80 minutes. It was scrappy and we left points out there, but the effort from all involved was amazing.”
Bailey will look to hooker Pat Fiffe and flankers James Denise and Paul Jarvis to lead the pack in doing all that work no one outside the team sees. The ability to get clean ball for Eagle scrumhalf Mike Petri allows him to distribute to the backs for quick ball to space. Harrison Edwards’ exemplary play at No. 8 has been great for the club with his game sense and work rate giving the team a real strike weapon. Eagle inside center Toby L’Estrange and Quentin Pradere anchor the backline and Eagle wing Troy Hall is a class player.
Facing Austin in the Finals is a bit of a mystery for NYAC. “We haven’t come across them yet,” Bailey stated. “All finals are tough and we do not expect any different. It’s who handles the occasion better on the night. All we can do is look after ourselves and make sure we have the best preparation possible.” In gearing up for the game, Quinn said, “We know they are strong, efficient, well drilled, and have a good kicking game. It’s going to be one of those situations where we have to back ourselves, play our game, and hopefully it will see us through.”
On the opposite sideline, the Austin Blacks will have a tough hill to climb on Saturday. With their team-centric mentality, head coach Tane Jericevich believes his club’s full capability will be on display.
“[In Regionals] we played ok, but we still haven’t reached our potential yet. On Day 1 [versus Belmont Shore], we started off very well, then picked up some injuries. Then on Day 2 [against Dallas] in the semifinals, we didn’t play well at all, but managed to come away with the victory, which was encouraging," said Jericevich. "I think we still haven’t played at our full potential this year. For the Final, we will need to execute and make sure we are accurate in everything we do.”
No one individual player is better than the team working as a whole is the mantra for the Blacks. “We’ve got a really good leadership group, a good core group of guys that have been working hard all preseason and throughout the year,” Jericevich said.
“That group has really held the team together and got us through the big season and the playoffs... We don’t have a star as we are all just as important as the other. I think that has been one of the main reasons why we have made it so far. We all equal parts of the team.”
Austin has played well parts of games but not put it all together for a full 80-minute performance. Hoping that the final will be that match, Jericevich expects a physical game.
“[NYAC] gets all their momentum and go forward from their forwards. They play with clean ball so we hope to make sure that we defend really well and we are urgent in defense. Make sure we don’t sit and wait for them to run on us all day because that how they go forward and get momentum and create opportunities for themselves.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of our guys working together. Giving everything they got and at the end of the day, they will be happy if they give everything they’ve got. We’ve talked to them this week to leave everything on the field and at the end of the day, regardless of anything that happens, we will be happy.”