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The Denver Barbarians clash with Belmont Shore in a repeat of the 1999 Super League Final to kick off the Pacific Rugby Premiership for both teams.
It’s almost 15 years later and still these clubs are near the top in the American scene. Both are undergoing changes.
Shore is one of the few clubs in the PRP not having undergone a recent coaching shift. Ray Egan still blows the whistle, although he has a lot of changes to deal with in his squad.
The biggest changes are at the back row, where Peter Dahl has work and family responsibilities, Eric Duechle is at the Olympic Training Center with the USA 7s team, Jack Tracy is now at Life University, and Eddie McKenna has retired.
That’s four huge holes for Egan to fill, and he’s been working hard recruiting. Lock Ian Carpenter provides continuity and leadership as captain, but the losses in the back row are an issue.
Shore played the Texas All-Stars at the Las Vegas Invitational and lost 17-5 in a game where Egan was not happy with his team’s overall performance.
“We made some basic errors on defense, didn’t have a lot of possession, and were not able to win the tackle line,” said Egan. “Early on we were looking at a heavy defeat because Texas was playing so well. We were really under the pump, but the boys picked it up, made a couple of goal line stands, and that’s encouraging.”
Egan said it was a good physical test, but one where he wished his team has played better.
Now he will hope to put other teams under the pump, as he expected Shore to play a much more direct game.
They debut that game plan against Denver, who have a new coach after Mike Mangan had to step away for family reasons. Center Taylor Howden has taken over the coaching duties and has done superbly well. The players have responded and numbers are up.
Returning from a stint with the USA Selects team, Max de Achaval showed why he was chosen – his decision-making under pressure is excellent, and he moves back to flyhalf for the Barbarians this year. Joining Denver is Ata Malifa, who will slot in as either a center or backup flyhalf.
Captaining the side is still Logan Collins, who is as consistently hardworking a flanker as you will find. He has raised his game a notch of late, and is the undisputed leader of the team.
Bolstering the Barbarians are a number of guest players. As outlined by RUGBYMag earlier this week, the PRP is allowing clubs to use guest players who are CIPP’d with non-PRP teams. The idea is to provide a deep base of players for the clubs, and expose other players to a higher level.
With several area colleges under snow, Colorado is ripe for such a program and several players, including Colorado State University product Ben Pinkelman, are making long treks to get Barbarians practice time. The youth movement in Denver has bolstered the club, and the confidence boost to de Achaval and Logan hasn’t hurt, either.
Belmont Shore and Denver kick off at Cal State Long Beach on Saturday at 3pm.