This weekend the American Rugby Premiership and the Midwest Men’s Premiership, two of the strongest men’s competitions in the United States, kick off their 2018 season. Both competitions have gone under some reform since the end of the 2017-18 season, and are ready to debut their new look this fall in what should be two highly competitive formats.
Both competitions will also help revive the USA Rugby Elite Cup competition, which is now a Fall-based championship open to premier club leagues across the Division I landscape. The Elite Cup relaunches as professional club rugby continues to find its space in the Spring, creating roster differentiation for many of the amateur and semi-professional clubs competing across both windows.
The Midwest, for the past five years, has been putting an emphasis on constantly improving the professionalism of their competitions and the teams that play in them. Heading into the 2018-19 season it seems as though they’ve done it again. For 2018-19 they’ve added two new teams and a new format to facilitate the growth.
Both the 2018 and 2017 Men’s Division II National Runners-up, the Detroit Tradesmen and St. Louis Bombers (respectively) have now moved up into the Midwest’s Division I competition. While the leap from Division II to Division I can be daunting, the Midwest’s vice president of competitions, Al Lucas, believes both teams will be ready immediately.
“Detroit is going to be pretty competitive,” stated Lucas. “They played in the Thunderbird Cup during the Spring and did very well against some of the Division I teams in that competition. I expect them to be competitive in the east right off the bat.”
As for St. Louis, Lucas is excited to see what they will bring for the table. “St. Louis is a big question mark for everyone. They’ve done very well in Division II. I know they’re disappointed how last year ended, but they’ve challenged themselves to get better. They have brought in a new coach (Ben Meyers) and have brought in a lot of new players. It will be interesting to see what they can do this year.”
With the addition of these two new teams, a restructuring of the competition needed to be made in order to accommodate for travel. Instead of the eight-team round robin format, the Midwest will now divide their competition into two pools of five: The East and the West. Each team will play an eight-game schedule with a home and away match against the teams in their pool. At the end of these eight games the top team from each pool will meet for the championship match in the Spring.
This isn’t a new format for the Midwest, as they have used it previously, but it was abandoned as there was an apparent lack of parity between the pools. Lucas believes that this time it will be different as the teams are now competing at a higher level, which is reflected by his predictions for how the standings will look at the season’s end.
“It’s hard to tell, looking at both the East and West it could go either way,” Lucas explained. “Teams have lost a lot of players to MLR, and we don’t know what to expect with all the fluctuations. In the West, it is hard to look past Metropolis with their performances in summer 7s and in the premiership last year. In the East, the (Chicago) Lions look like the team to beat. They have good coaching and recruiting.”
Metropolis and Chicago were two of the standouts last year, so it is natural to think that they will be contenders once again. However, between the new structure and teams consistently striving for improvement Lucas believes there will be some contenders emerging from the shadows.
“Palmer College has a strong recruiting class, they will be a team to look out for in the west.” Lucas began to explain. “The Kansas City Blues, with their coaching and strong recruitment, will also be a contender for the title.
“In the East, I’m excited see how the Chicago Griffins perform,” continued Lucas. “They have Andrew Suniula coaching there and with a name like that and the structures they have in place, they’ll be able to draw in out of town talent. They might be the sleeper of the competition.”
The regular season of the Midwest Premiership will run until the 17th of November, with the Championship to be played in the Spring. The date of the Championship is still to be announced.
This week’s six-pack matches from the Midwest Premiership:
Cincinnati Wolfhounds vs. Chicago Lions
Columbus Rugby vs. Detroit Tradesmen
Kansas City Blues vs. St. Louis Bombers
Metropolis Rugby vs. Milwaukee Barbarians
American Rugby Premiership:
On the Atlantic coast, one of the strongest competitions in Men’s Division I has just become tougher. The American Rugby Premiership, which is home to 11 XVs National Champions, has just seen the Life Running Eagles and their 4 XVs National Club Championships return to their ranks. In fact, with Life’s return, an ARP squad has played in the final of a high-level XVs national championship for the past 11 consecutive seasons.
“It’s a return of a standard from previous years,” noted Tony Nash, manager of the ARP, “We’re very encouraged by them rejoining and it will help our mission of raising the standards of play nationwide, and awareness of the ARP across the country. They’ll give us a strong presence in the Southeast.”
Increasing the standard of play is not just a buzz word to the ARP, it is something they actively pursue. An example of this is their work in close association with the National Panel Referees to ensure that each of their games is refereed to the highest degree.
“We have been working in close association with the National Panel referees, they have been a tremendous partner in our ventures to improve the quality of play,” said Nash.
Even with the lengths the ARP is going to, on the surface, it does not appear as though the standards could be raised much higher. However, despite the incredible levels parity seen across the competition in recent years, Nash believes that this year’s competition will be tighter than ever.
“I believe it will come down to the final weekend and final game of the season,” Nash explained. “We feel like there will be more parity in the league this year. There is a great concentration of talent in the ARP and, with the advent of Elite Cup, we expect it to be highlighted this year.”
There will be no better example of the eminent standards in the ARP, than when New York Athletic (NYAC) and Old Blue of New York face-off this weekend, for the Remembrance Cup. These two teams compete in quite possibly the fiercest rivalry in American rugby. Every year NYAC hosts a high-level match the weekend before the anniversary of 9/11 to, “Play for those who no longer can.” 9/11 had a significant impact on both clubs, with Old Blue losing one of their leaders and NYAC losing three members of their active roster, including their captain. Each year this game serves as a testament to both the strength of these clubs, but also to how the game should be played. This game often serves to preview who the eventual champion of the ARP will be.
Elsewhere in the ARP, 2018 Division I National Champion (and Club 7s Bronze Medalist) Mystic River Rugby will host the Life Running Eagles in Malden, Massachusetts. Both sides are eager to dispel the notion that the New York teams can dominate the Fall, and this match is set to feature numerous players that will be playing professionally and internationally in the immediate future.
This week’s six-pack matches from the American Rugby Premiership:
New York Athletic vs. Old Blue of New York
Mystic River Rugby vs. Life University Running Eagles
This year the Midwest and ARP are working in association to showcase of the strength of Fall club rugby. The 2017 Midwest Champion, will face the 2018 ARP champion in the Elite Cup final
on October 27.
The idea behind this match, is to provide a platform for young players who may not, yet, have been identified by MLR or National Team Scouts to show off their capabilities. “The main message we want to get out is that there is a place for you to develop and be identified,” Nash started. “We will help support you in your ventures to reach the higher levels.”
Both the Midwest and the ARP have been working on this idea for quite some time, and included the opportunity for other high-level club leagues to participate as well. The competitions mutually see it as an opportunity to recruit and retain players, so that the full force of Fall club rugby can be displayed.
The Elite Cup championship, to be held October 27 in Atlanta in conjunction with the Women’s Premier League championship weekend, will feature the top clubs from each league squaring off for the rights to be crowned the autumn champions of the United States. Further, by playing alongside the WPL playoffs, the Midwest and ARP have helped create a monstrous weekend of Club Rugby. The weekend will serve as a critical pathway from amateur to professional, and showcase both the future and present of club rugby in America. It will be a weekend that neither fans, nor scouts will want to miss.