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The Northeast Summer Series continues this weekend with a showdown in Saratoga, NY. Mystic River sits atop the leader board, but Old Blue and the Connecticut Bulldogs are within striking distance with two tournaments to play.
The Bulldogs have yet to win a tournament thus far, but they've looked dangerous in spurts. Connecticut finished third in the first battle and managed to earn its way into the finals at Randall’s Island last weekend.
Filled with a number of Pacific Islanders, Connecticut is known on the circuit for having a little bit of flair and a tremendous amount of explosiveness. Twice last week, the Bulldogs came from a three score deficit to take the lead on Old Blue and Mystic River, respectively.
“We are really trying to push the ball wide,” said Connecticut Bulldogs coach John Broker. “We are trying to get some room for our strike runners. We do have some really good runners. I think that is one of the strengths we are working on right now.”
Fili Botitu, who is a capped Fijian player, is a dynamic player and one of the strike runners that Broker emphasized in his conversation with Rugby Today. Botitu netted eight tries in five games last weekend and is one of the players the rest of the Northeast is focused on stopping.
Complimenting Botitu is another Islander, Peceli Rinakama as well as a player that Broker indicated has come along tremendously over the past few seasons. Sean McGarrity has made a large impact for the Bulldogs this season but unfortunately will be out of commission this week due to sprained knee he suffered the week prior.
While the other players are known for there flashy play, Captain Elliot Wangaard received the highest of praises from Broker thanks to his leadership skills.
“He has just done a phenomenal job as captain,” Broker said of Wangaard. “He has really come along and got the boys focused and got the boys centered on how we need to play.”
One thing that has haunted the Bulldogs, however, is their inability to start games quickly. Broker indicated that there was going to be heavy emphasis on getting out of the gate sharp this weekend.
“We have to figure out how to start faster,” added Broker. “We let these teams jump ahead of us. It could be a whole different ball game if we can play like that in the first couple minutes. We are doing some soul searching as to why that is because we know we have the talent, the ability, and the guys just have to identify that and start off stronger.”
As we enter the third tournament, it appears that Mystic River, Old Blue and Connecticut Bulldogs are all pushing each other for the two spots to Nationals. Although Mystic River won last week, coach Josh Smith was not completely happy with the victory. For Old Blue as well, a third place finish surely disappointed Steve Lewis and company. The intensity for this week is sure to be upped a notch as the three times fight to not be the odd man out at Nationals.