Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
USA RUGBY CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS!
London Irish are headed back to the Premiership after a year’s absence, Scarlets claimed their second Guinness Pro12 title with a stunning performance in Dublin, an England XV easily handled the Barbarians’ invasion of Twickenham, the United States took sixth place in Langford and New Zealand won yet another Women’s Sevens Series event.
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The first half in this match was very similar to the first leg final the previous Wednesday at Headingley with London Irish struggling to put away a fired up and competitive Yorkshire Carnegie side. The second forty also started the same as last week with the Exiles finally ratcheting up the pressure and pulling out to a significant lead.
But then the team from Leeds changed things up by mounting a serious comeback effort that forced the Irish to keep the scoreboard ticking over with penalty kicks to negate the impact of the visitors’ tries. In the end though, London Irish with their 11-point advantage were too far in front for Yorkshire to catch.
This was a good result all around because Yorkshire Carnegie wasn’t realistically counting on ending up back in the top level of English rugby after six years away while London Irish absolutely had to be promoted to secure the future of the club.
This was the largest ever margin in a Guinness Pro12 Final and it wasn’t even as close as the blowout scoreline indicated. It was Scarlets’ match from start to finish despite being played on Irish soil in front of a highly partisan crowd. It was also their first victory in a Final because the last time Llanelli Scarlets won the competition back in 2003/4 it was still called the Celtic League and the champion was determined by the end of season table with no playoffs.
Munster’s vaunted defense and forward power were nowhere to be seen as Scarlets ran the ball from everywhere and turned small gaps into tries with outstanding handling and a constant desire to attack. Munster didn’t display their usual continuity and consistency, turning the ball over unnecessarily and repeatedly, then looking slow in recovering and getting back on defense.
The Scarlets had a remarkable campaign that started with plenty of defeat and ended with total triumph, becoming the first Welsh region to take the crown since the Ospreys did it in 2011/12. And they did it by beating the Guinness Pro12 co-favorites all year, Leinster and Munster, in successive weeks away from home, in impressive fashion.
You never know how these exhibition style matches against the Barbarians are going to go, either wide open tryfests or more staid contests with both teams getting used to playing together. This one was the latter but still had moments of excitement as the youngsters and oldsters on the England squad battled the experience of the visitors.
The main takeaway from the afternoon at Twickenham was that England has a pretty deep reservoir of talent. With England’s Lions on their way to New Zealand, Eddie Jones went for a team populated by a few veterans and a bunch of non-capped youths who stepped up to press their credentials for future wearing of the white jersey.
CANADA SEVENS – USA POOL PLAY
The tournament started out great for the United States as they won a tight affair against England 21 - 19, a team that usually plays them tough. Any time you are slotted into a pool with New Zealand you had better win your other matches because the Black Ferns don’t lose very often in the preliminary stage of these events.
The USA played some quality rugby against New Zealand in their second match but still fell 7 – 0 in a defense oriented affair.
Facing tourney invitees the Netherlands in their last pool fixture, the Eagles ran wild, running in nine tries for a 57 – 0 victory and earning a place in the Cup Quarterfinals.
CANADA SEVENS – USA KNOCKOUT PLAY
That Cup Quarterfinal happened to be against Australia and the women in gold were seemingly in control throughout, despite an early try by Naya Tapper that gave the Eagles a short-lived advantage before eventually losing 22 – 10.
Next up was England in the 5th place semifinal and again it was a back-and-forth battle won by the Americans, setting up a clash with Russia.
The United States looked like they were headed toward a fifth-place finish when they went up by two converted tries in the first half but a Russian try at the death of that period foretold a closer contest. The Russians would later take the lead, forcing the Americans to respond with a third converted try of their own to send the match into extra time to determine a winner. After four tiring minutes with lots of spent bodies on the field, the Russians used fresh legs to score the game winning try. If you are going to watch just one of the Eagles six matches in Langford, make it this one.
Canada wanted to be the first host to win their own tournament in the 2016/17 season but it wasn’t to be as they couldn’t summon enough strike power to overcome New Zealand’s suffocating defense. The final was in doubt until the end though, as the Black Ferns scored on the last play of the match, denying Canada a shot at a famous victory.
The win in Langford puts New Zealand in a favorable position to win the overall series title when the campaign concludes in Clermont in June but Canada is one of two countries – the other is Australia – that still has a mathematical chance of overtaking them.
The Rugby Channel will bring you live coverage of the 2017 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club National Championships from Glendale, Colorado.
LIFE WEST GLADIATRIX V RALEIGH VENOM – Saturday, June 3 at 7:00 PM ET
The Women’s Division I Final is a meeting of powerhouses. Life West is a brand-new team that celebrated their inaugural season by winning the Division II title against a strong Wisconsin side last year.
The Raleigh Venom have been to the title match four times in D2 and each time they’ve come away with championship hardware, in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2011.
AUSTIN HUNS V NEW YORK ATHLETIC CLUB – Saturday, June 3 at 9:00 PM ET
The Austin Huns would love to prove that they are one of the top clubs in the USA by taking home the Men’s Division I trophy in their first-ever appearance in the title match. A championship would help give them momentum heading into the professional era.
The Huns have played in this stadium recently and normally that would give them a slight advantage but their opponent on Saturday is the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), who won the crown at Infinity Park in 2015 against the Austin Blacks and are a perennial power in the East.
These two sides have over a hundred Eagles caps between them so the competition will definitely be fierce and at a very high level.
ST. LOUIS ROYALS V BREMER COUNTY BUCKS – Sunday, June 4 at 1:00 PM ET
The Men’s Division III Final will produce a first-time national champion. Both teams have been knocking on the door in recent years but neither has been able to celebrate after their last match of the season. St. Louis came close in 2010 with a loss to OMBAC in the final in Glendale.
Both sides are deeply involved in coaching – high school and college - and have proud rugby traditions dating back to the 1970s.
SAN FRANCISCO GOLDEN GATE V MILWAUKEE SCYLLA – Sunday, June 4 at 3:00 pm ET
The Women’s Division II Final will also crown a champ for the first time. Both clubs are relative newcomers to this level of play and will be full of enthusiasm for the contest on Sunday.
Like most people who are not students of Greek mythology, I had to look up what “Scylla” was, and upon doing so it sounds like one of the most dangerous mascots ever!
ST. LOUIS BOMBERS V LIFE RUNNING EAGLES – Sunday, June 4 at 5:00 pm ET
Either the Bombers or the Running Eagles will soar to a Men’s Division II title in the last of five weekend finals. For the St. Louis based outfit, it will be their first opportunity to call themselves national champions. For Life, it will be a continuation of prolonged excellence that led to titles in 2008, 2013, and 2014.
If you are interested in or play club rugby at any level, then right now is the time to subscribe and see what the best squads in five different divisions have to offer with championships on the line. Subscribe Now and fill your weekend with America’s finest club teams in action!