The USA Rugby Men's D1 Club playoffs are fast approaching, and don’t be surprised if the traditional favorites have more obstacles to overcome than years past.
You would think around April that the D1 playoff picture would be clear cut, but year two of Major League Rugby took another wave of premier men’s club players and that led to more parity nationwide.
Here's a look at the regions:
The Favorite: Rocky Gorge
Led by Nick Kuhl (10 tries, 121 points) and Ethan Reese (10 tries), Rocky Gorge is not only the favorite in the Mid-Atlantic, but should be the favorite to win the National Championship. They are 10-0 on the season having stomped every team in their conference. Many of their players were selected multiple times to represent the Capital Selects, so this team likely has more matches under their belt than any in the nation.
Watch out also for former Minnesota-Duluth champion No. 8 Luc Deroches, who is tearing it up for Gorge now.
Obstacle: Injuries and Old Glory.
If Rocky Gorge can avoid the injury bug they could be on the way to hoisting a couple of trophies. A national title run could be perfect timing for Rocky Gorge players looking to be a part of DC Old Glory’s 2020 MLR debut season. It's the age-old question: can Rocky Gorge stay together and bring their best side to nationals?
The Favorite: Chicago Lions
The Lions put together a decent run in the fall, but were forced into hibernation with a historically harsh winter. They’re undefeated in the spring, but they’ll have to get through a tough crosstown rival in the Chicago Griffins in two weeks.
Check out our Lions community rugby program in action balancing a sporting intervention with a social empitional learning curriculum to build social capital and give kids the right to play #sportforgood @Allstate @Athletico pic.twitter.com/LLm9EHu26w— Chicago Lions Rugby (@clrfc) April 9, 2019
Former U. Arkansas flyhalf Jack Casey has been a nice addition, and he has scored five tries for the Lions.
Waiting for the Lions is Palmer College who also have their set on a midwest championship.
Obstacle: Chicago Griffins, Palmer College
Atlantic North (ARP)
The Favorite: Old Blue, Life Running Eagles
Obstacle: Each other.
Last year’s national champion Mystic River will not return to nationals this year after a 1-5 start to the ARP season. That’s what happens when an MLR team pops up down the road. Just ask the New York Athletic Club. NYAC went to the national semifinals last season and will also miss out on nationals this season.
In the fall the ARP was the highest-scoring conference in D1, while boasting some of the closest matches too. Old Blue came out of the fall atop the table, but in the biggest match of the season last week Life came into New York and beat Old Blue in a low scoring 17-10 thriller.
Old Blue will likely hoist the ARP trophy, but Life will be the favorite if they face off again in the national quarterfinal.
The Favorites: Dallas Reds, Austin Blacks
Obstacle: Each other.
These two teams stand in each other's way once again. Last season the Red River took two bids with the Blacks skating past the Reds by four points. The good news is that they play this Saturday. While it won’t officially determine the Red River Champion; it will give us a pretty good idea of what’s to come if they were to face off in a national quarterfinal, again.
Jake Campey leads the league with 16 tries for the Reds, with the evergreen Chad Joseph notching 13. Meanwhile, Chris Ingate and Hayden Johnson have 13 each for the Blacks.
Pacific Rugby Premiership
Favorites: Belmont Shore, Life West
Obstacle: Each other.
The PRP is going to come down to the juggernauts. Just as it looked the entire season.
Last week the two top teams clashed as a preview to the PRP final and Belmont Shore outside center Adriano Ojedo almost single-handedly snatched the victory from Life West. The Gladiators, who have enjoyed a huge season from scrumhalf Devereaux Ferris, will key on Ojeda in the final, but the Belmont Shore back three is the best in the country.
Oh, and watch out for Glendale. After an 0-3 start, the Merlins are within shouting distance of Life West for 2nd, and play the Gladiators this weekend. A victory by the Merlins and they could be facing Belmont Shore in the final.
This weekend, Glendale takes on Life West in a huge game, Belmont Shore hosts the unpredictable Santa Monica Dolphins, and OMBAC visits an imporving SFGG.
Last season the PRP put two teams (OMBAC, Belmont Shores) into the national quarterfinals. Belmont Shore eliminated OMBAC and went all the way to the final, only to lose to Mystic River by a point.
With fortunes changed for Mystic, is it a redemption year for Shore, or time for someone else to march in?