Red River Men’s Division III South: Houston United D3 vs. Galveston Rugby:
One of the biggest rivalries in club rugby you may not have heard of is Houston United D3 (HURT D3) and Galveston Rugby. These two teams over the past years have been locked in some immense battles and usually takes a lot to separate them on the table and the scoreboard. This weekend as they prepare to go head to head, they are both sat a perfect 2-0 with ten competition points apiece. Someone’s perfect record will be tarnished, but each team knows a win won’t come easily.
Zach Hiller, the Director of Rugby and Head Coach for HURT D3, is pretty confident in his team and their form as they prepare for Saturday’s encounter. “We have an excellent team cohesion,” began Hiller. “We seem to have picked up right where we left off last year. Everyone is hitting their mid-season stride early on.” There is little you can say to deny Hiller’s statement. HURT D3 is already averaging 38 points per contest while only letting in 11. Their defense has been suffocating and their offense automatic. Galveston will have their hands full trying to get any sort of edge in the game.
Just because HURT D3 is playing exceptionally, it does not guarantee them anything, as Galveston has been playing just as well. Through their two games thus far this season, Galveston has been averaging 42 points a match and only letting in 19. This is exactly where they were at the end of last season too, where they averaged 41 points for and 16 against. Needless to say, HURT D3 aren’t the only team in mid-season form this early into the season.
Rugby is a team sport, and it will take a full 15, or 23, person effort to get a team through the 80 minutes; and for HURT D3, they believe they epitomize what a team effort is all about. “I’m not sure we really have one particular guy that stands out,” noted Hiller. “It really has been a team effort… Over half the people who have played for us have scored at least one try on the season.” While, it may be a team effort, it certainly does appear that the backs have been taking advantage of the scoring opportunities. However, as the old adage goes, “the forwards decide who wins the game, the backs decide by how much.” Given their results so far this season, it is safe to say both HURT D3 and Galveston have had both units firing on all cylinders.
Galveston have been putting in great team efforts, but they have a couple of players that have stood out amongst the rest. Corbin Hoffmann and Austin Kirwin have already crossed the white line five times this season and Hoffmann has been accurate with the boot too, converting tries with high efficiency through the season. The scariest part about this combination is they are the halves pairing for Galveston. With two threats with such direct access to the ball, HURT D3 will have to be on their toes for the entirety of their time off the ball, because even a momentary lapse in concentration will see Galveston put an easy 7 points up on the board.
It’s going to be a tough game, with the advantage probably skewing in the favor in HURT D3, as they are playing at home. In their previous encounters home field advantage has been crucial, with the home team winning the last couple of games by an average of 34 points. Even with the advantage playing at home provides, Hiller knows nothing is guaranteed. “I’m expecting a tough matchup. They edged us out for the division last year. They’ve really stepped up as a club over the past few seasons. I’m not expecting anything different this year.”
With both teams in fine form entering Saturday the game will likely go down to the wire, and Hiller has his team prepared for it; as he’s emphasized fitness through the week. “[The key will be] Fitness. Rugby is a long game, we are lucky enough to have enough players pushing for positions this year, I expect to be using all 23 of my players.” Fitness alone, won’t be enough to see HURT D3 over the line. They will have to work hard to slow the ball down in the rucks, and to put as much pressure on the halves combination as possible. Galveston’s keys to success will revolve around supporting their scrumhalf and flyhalf. This is not to say they need to lift their two key players, rather they need the other 13 players to match the standard to play, as HURT D3 is a complete squad. If a couple of players can produce standout performances, Galveston will be nigh unstoppable. It will be an intensely fought match between two strong clubs. Look for the final 20 minutes to be where the two teams separate themselves.
Northern California Women’s Division II: San Francisco Golden Gate vs. Sacramento Amazons:
2017’s and 2018’s Pacific North Women’s Division II Champions will face off this weekend when San Francisco Golden Gate plays against the Sacramento Amazons. These two squads have been a force to be reckoned with over the last 24 months. SFGG after winning the Pacific Northwest were able to all the way to the National Championship match in 2017, where they fell one point short of victory. Sacramento shared a similar fate last year, however they bowed out in the National Quarterfinals to the eventual runners-up, St. Louis Sabres. When these two met last year the series was split at one a piece. However, the Amazons won the aggregate score by a convincing 59-24 scoreline. The aggregate scoreline is indicative of just how good the Amazons were last year; in eight games they were able to score 349 points and let in only 90, leaving them with an impressive plus/minus of 259. SFGG were nowhere near as dominant; but still had a very strong year finishing at 6-2 and handed the Amazons their only loss in the regular season last year. It promises to be an engrossing affair with both sides determined to get their championship aspirations started on the right foot. With home field advantage being so vital to these two teams, the pressure with be on SFGG to hold serve on the opening weekend.
Men’s Friendly: Austin Blacks vs. Life University:
The best college team in the country, Life University is set to take on the best team from the 2018 Red River Division I competition, the Austin Blacks. Life is playing this game as part of their tour of Texas. The Running Eagles will play Texas A&M, a fellow D1A opponent on Thursday night, before making their way out to Austin for Saturday’s fixture. For Austin this will be their first game since 2018, when they took down San Antonio Rugby convincingly- 72-0. Both teams play an attractive brand of rugby looking to spread the ball from sideline to sideline and preferring to keep ball in hand rather than get locked into a game of aerial ping-pong. The physicality usually would be the biggest challenge to overcome when a college team faces a men’s club team; however, many of the players who will feature in Life’s squad on Saturday played a large part in the Life club team finishing second in the American Rugby Premiership in the fall. This match should be an exciting encounter from start to finish and will give each team a much needed hit out before their seasons begin in earnest.
Northern California Men’s Division IV: Riverside Rugby vs. Dead Rabbits Rugby:
After compiling one of the strongest seasons for a Division III side in 2016-17, Riverside Rugby pulled out from all of their games in 2017-18. This weekend they return to competitive play, albeit in a different competition, as they compete in Southern California’s Men’s Division IV. Their opponents will be last year’s Southern California Division IV Champions, Dead Rabbits Rugby. Dead Rabbits were dominant last year going 7-1-1, scoring 39 points on average. Leading the offensive onslaught was William Robinson, who crossed the line five times on the year. However, if Riverside can capture their form for 2017 they will be able to handle the dead rabbits. During their last run, Riverside scored 34 points a game, while conceding 12. Saturday’s encounter will be an interesting test for both teams; for Dead
Rabbits it will tell them if they can pick up where they left off in 2018, and for Riverside it will show them how much work it will take for them to get back into the swing of things.
Southern California Women’s Division III: Fullerton Wolfpack vs. Northern Arizona Ladysharks:
This weekend the Northern Arizona Ladysharks will take the field for the first time in their history, as they go up against former Division II stalwart, the Fullerton Wolfpack. In recent years, the Wolfpack have struggled to capture the levels of success they had previously enjoyed and in their last two years their winning percentage has dropped to down near 20. As a result of the poor run of form they have dropped down to Division III in the hopes they will be able to rebuild and get back to their former glory. Saturday will prove to be a good run through for each team, as they are both searching for an identity. A win to either side will give them a tremendous confidence boost as they head into their new season.
Red River Women’s Division I: Dallas Harlequins vs. Houston Athletic:
The women of the Dallas Harlequins kick off their 2019 campaign this week against, a formidable Houston Athletic (HARC) side. HARC is coming into 2019 fresh off the heels of handing the Austin Valkyries, their first loss in the Red River competition since May 2015. It wasn’t a close win either, as HARC were able to close out a convincing 17-point victory. The closest the Valkyries had come to tasting defeat before, was a draw last year against the Harlequins. This early in the season it is hard to separate the two teams, however, both teams seem to be trending upwards, and will be eager to see the form captured in various parts of 2018 translate into 2019. HARC’s key to translating their late success in 2018 to 2019, will be get the ball in the hands of Bonnie Richardson. The electrifying wing was responsible for two of HARC’s tries in their match against Austin and she is always a threat with ball in hand. Dallas, similarly, will be looking to a wing of their own, Emily Grissett- who was an absolute nightmare for her opposition during the Harlequins preseason friendlies. If she can retain her form from the preseason, HARC will have a hard time keeping up with the Harlequins.