The Rocky Mountain Challenge is the biggest U19 and U17 tournament in the country every year, and 2010’s version was no different. Utah and Minnesota both had good showings in Aurora, Colo., finishing in the top three in both age groups, but it was Northern California, who won the U17 title, and Texas winning U19 bracket, who shined brightest on the weekend.
“We felt we had a really good team put together,” said Brett Mills, director of high performance for Texas Youth Rugby. “We had a mix of some younger guys, and of course we had two U20s US National team players in Connor Mills and Paul Rogers that added experience to the group, so we felt we had pretty good opportunity.”
Texas’ first match of the tourney was Minnesota, and the boys from the Lone Star State had to battle to emerge victors.
“They gave us everything we could handle. It came right down to the wire, actually, and the fact that we kind of came through a little bit of adversity on some of the play calling and stuff like that kind of set us up,” said Mills, whose team would go on to beat Arizona and Wisconsin in pool play.
“We came through and smashed Arizona. They were a big side, so we got the ball wide to our backs and ended up scoring a lot of tries against them. Wisconsin was massive, too, and the forwards played an exceptional game against them, and finally, there at the end, we were able to breakthrough and score a couple tries.”
U19 was divided into two pools, with the champs of both advancing to the title match, where vaunted Utah, also undefeated in pool play, was waiting for Texas. Utah’s reputation as the dominant state for U19 rugby is well earned, as Highland’s incomparable resume has been recently bolstered by the uprising of United, 2010 U19 national champs, and it’s a reputation that can be a tough psychological hurdle for opponents.
“To go up against a Utah team, kids have it in their head it’s going to be a tough match, and they’re right, but I think they’re a bit intimidated going into it,” Mills said. However, this time around, Texas was playing with an unprecedented confidence.
“We were set up pretty good, and we were talking to the players, and our captain, Connor Mills at fly half, he told us that he felt real confident going into the Utah game and kind of spread it around to the kids,” Mills added.
There weren’t a lot of scores in the U19 final, but that doesn’t mean the match lacked excitement. Sometimes, a good defensive duel can be as enthralling as a shootout. And when someone does breakthrough for a score, it’s usually all the sweeter.
“We’d seen that Utah was chipping ahead,” said Mills. “Because we were playing a rush defense, they had been chipping over the top, so we were making sure that we were running a sweeper behind it, and our wing Wayne McGowan came through and caught it on the full and broke about three tackles and ran right through the heart of their defense on the transition and scored right underneath the post, so it was a pretty spectacular try.”
While McGowan’s try impressed, it was Texas’ defense that won the day. “That final was incredible, a real exciting nail biter. The last five minutes were a goal line stand by us, and we managed to hold them out and win the game. We were thrilled to death with the effort of the kids,” said Mills, whose team won 7-3.
“Anybody right now in our division going up against a Utah team, we’re always an underdog, and the fact that the kids had the confidence to play with them and then manage to shut them down was pretty good. Utah had scored over 30 in each of their games, so for us to hold them at three, we were extremely pleased with the defense.”
1. Northern California
5. Heart of America
7. Golden Gate
8. Eastern Rockies
4. Heart of America
5. Eastern Rockies