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Kino Sports Complex in Tuscon Ariz. will host one of two DI Club quarterfinals and semifinals this weekend. Life West will take the San Diego Old Aztecs while the Austin Blacks will take on the Dallas Reds for the third time this season.
In its first season in DI, Life West has continued to dominate opponents. After the club was founded in 2013, the Gladiators finished 2nd overall in division three. The team affiliated with the chiropractic school out west elected to move to DII and went on to win the National title last season. The move to DI has not been much of a struggle as the Gladiators completed a perfect 10-0 conference campaign. The Gladiators won the NorCal playoffs and beat the Oregon Sports Union to reach the round of eight.
Life West will meet a red hot San Diego Old Aztecs team. After losing an early encounter with OMBAC, the Aztecs have reeled off 12 straight wins. The streak included two victories over the fellow San Diego side. The last being the 29-8 victory in the conference championship last weekend.
“After the loss to OMBAC, we saw a couple of things that we specifically needed to work on, particularly around the ability to attack off good set piece,” said Jaco Breytenbach of San Diego. “We have used our set piece strength and have a really good group of forwards in the tight five that is helping us to create that set piece strength.”
This match will certainly be the toughest test of the season for the Aztecs. They lost several players to injury in the OMBAC match and will face a very athletic and talented Gladiator squad. Despite having not played each other before, the teams are familiar with one another. The Aztecs know Life West coach Adriaan Ferris well and saw their flyhalf from last season move over to Life West.
“I know they are a very well coached, a very well structured side. They have a lot of really good athletes and are dangerous all over the park. We will need to be at our best and we will need to play where we think our strengths are to nullify some of their strengths,” Breytenbach added.
The other match in the West region pits two familiar foes against each other. The Dallas Reds and Austin Blacks have a long history playing each other and the matches are always tight. Prior to the two regular season matches this season, the squads met in the semifinals of last year’s playoffs. Austin nipped the Reds in that matchup and Dallas will be seeking some revenge in the round of eight this season.
“It is a bit disappointing to play at this early stage of the playoffs because both teams are both legitimate contenders for the national championship,” Dallas club manager Filip Keuppens told Rugby Today. “It is sad to see one of these two teams eliminated this early.”
Dallas and Austin dominated the Red River this season with both teams going 11-1. The only blemish for each side was a road loss to one another. Both matches were extremely close and this one should be no different.
“It feels like this is a growing rivalry between two clubs that have quite a respect for each other. There is never more than a try between the teams,” added Keuppens. “There has been some personnel changes on both sides due to pro rugby so it will really interesting to see how that plays out this weekend.”
Both matches will kick off at 4PM PST and will be aired live on USA Rugby TV.