2022 WPL Championship

WPL Championship Preview: Women's Rugby Finale Returns After Two Seasons

WPL Championship Preview: Women's Rugby Finale Returns After Two Seasons

After being sidelined for two full seasons due to COVID-19, the top division in American women’s rugby came back in full force for the 2022 campaign.

Jun 22, 2022 by Briar Napier
WPL Championship Preview: Women's Rugby Finale Returns After Two Seasons

Welcome back to the party, Women’s Premier League Rugby.

After being sidelined for two full seasons due to COVID-19, the top division in American women’s rugby came back in full force for the 2022 campaign with a grueling 10-week schedule that showed off the country’s top female players—including some who'll likely be seen playing for the U.S. national team at the Rugby World Cup later this year in New Zealand.

But before that happens, there are scores to settle back at club level with the WPL Championship, a three-day event being held at the Chicago Blaze Rugby Complex in Lemont, Illinois, from June 24-26. 

With all of the league’s clubs pouring into suburban Chicago for what will be an intense weekend of rugby, everyone has something to play for—but some have more at stake than others.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect ahead of the tournament being streamed live on FloRugby.

What’s Happening?

A weekend chock-full of women’s rugby will take place at the Chicago Blaze Rugby Complex starting June 24, with each of the WPL’s 10 teams getting two days of competition as part of a high-octane, fast-paced showdown in the Midwest. 

However, the tournament’s format is structured so that teams from the league’s two conferences (Red Conference and Blue Conference) take on corresponding opposition judged by placement in the league’s regular-season table—which was just completed. 

Those games will take place Friday, but the last two of the day will be the ones to watch out for as they act as de-facto semifinal matches for Sunday’s final day. 

First at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday, Red’s top team—New York Rugby Club—will take on Blue’s runner-up in Beantown Rugby out of Boston. The winner will then take on Sunday the victor of the 5:30 p.m. Friday finale against Red’s runner-up (the Colorado Gray Wolves) and the winners of the Blue Conference, the aptly-named Berkeley All Blues. 

The clubs in attendance have been waiting hundreds of days to get at each other once again for a shot at silverware, and the late games Friday and Sunday will no doubt feature some of the best women’s rugby on offer in the United States.

All Blues Look To Get Back To The Mountaintop

The Bay Area’s premier women’s rugby team, the All Blues, have been around in some form since 1978 and were a founding member of the WPL, winning two league titles (back-to-back, no less, in 2011 and 2012) in the process. 

The champions of the Blue Conference this season, there have been some downright dominant performances from the All Blues thus far, such as the 75-0 rout of Chicago North Shore on May 22 and the 75-10 romp of Atlanta Harlequins to close out the regular season. Will they keep the good vibes rolling in a tough playoff semifinal matchup against the Colorado Gray Wolves, however? That’s the important question. 

Nonetheless, having the second highest-scoring offense in the entire league helps, especially by being able to put up points in bunches through the powerful play of Jade-Alexandra McGrath, who led the WPL with an incredible 12 tries this season. 

The real determinant for how the All Blues’ run will go might be in their defense—Berkeley is 6-0 in matches this year when it allowed 21 points or less, and 0-2 when it allowed its opponents to cross that threshold. But if the All Blues can hold off high-flying Colorado and make it to the final, their chances of winning their first WPL title in a decade look strong—no matter who they face.

New Look, Same Great Rugby?

In the past decade, there’s been a name synonymous with success in American women’s club rugby: the Glendale Merlins. The suburban Denver-based team, which started life in the WPL as the Glendale Raptors in 2012, was unquestionably the squad to beat across a six-year stretch from 2014-19 when the Merlins won three titles. 

Not only that, but they’re also defending champions from way back in 2019 when they beat the Life West Gladiatrix at home to make it three trophies in less than a decade of playing in the league. 

Things have changed just a little bit since then—Glendale rebranded before the 2022 season, to the Colorado Gray Wolves, after their partnership with the city ended in early 2020. But despite the change in identity, Colorado’s standards have remained the same through the current regular season. 

The team ended up finishing second on 32 points in Red Conference—posting the league’s top point differential at +258, as well—to set the Gray Wolves up for being two wins from retaining their WPL title. 

Coached by all-time U.S. women’s national rugby team cap leader and USA Rugby Hall of Famer Jamie Burke, there’s also plenty of pedigree to the WPL’s revamped side from the Rocky Mountains.

Well Worth The Wait For Beantown?

Quick quiz question: How many WPL titles do this year’s final four have combined in their separate histories? If your answer was eight, you’d be correct. Another one: How many of those titles belong to Beantown Rugby? Zero, despite being a WPL founding member. 

That could change this weekend in Chicago. The Boston-based rugby club may have needed a clutch win over the Atlanta Harlequins on Saturday to beat out the Life West Gladiatrix for the Blue Conference’s final playoff spot, but make no mistake: Beantown is no fluke. 

The team beat the Blue champion All Blues once already and come into the championship on a three-match winning streak, the longest current win streak (not counting draws) of any of the four teams playing in the semifinals. 

Center/flanker Amanda Schweitzer (39 points, four tries) is one of the top do-it-all players in the league, but Beantown’s calling card is unquestionably its strong defensive unit that allowed the second-fewest points in the league at 106. 

With an affinity for bonus points, as well—Beantown’s nine this year are the most in WPL—the team doesn’t quit and tries to get the most out of every match. It may prove extra valuable in a winner-take-all scenario like this weekend’s.

New York Rugby Club Aims For Return To Glory

There’s an old stalwart of the WPL—and of women’s rugby in the U.S. in general—that has something to say this season about Colorado’s run of dominance lately. Before Glendale, there was New York Rugby Club, a legendary squad that has both been in existence in some form since 1929 (as a men’s club) and was a founding member of the WPL in 2009, winning the league’s first two titles before going on to capture another crown in 2017. 

Now, the club can boast about the fact that they won the Red Conference this season with a near-flawless (7-1-0 overall) record entering the Championship, putting them in arguably the best position of the field to push forth toward what would be a WPL-record fourth championship. 

Getting past Beantown Rugby in the semifinal won’t be an easy task, however, especially as there’s already built-in animosity between the two cities, adding on to what should be a frenzied encounter. 

But as a national-team factory that should have players competing at the top stages in world women’s rugby later this year, such as including fullback Tess Fuery, New York should not be taken lightly in Chicagoland next weekend. If it is, the rest of the Championship contenders are in for a world of hurt on the rugby pitch.