Just as soon as it started, it’s almost done. Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference (NCRC) play has only two weeks left in the regular season, and what an eventful year it has been. Despite the only seed being locked already, every coach will tell you there’s never an excuse to stop.
Western Washington (3-4) will take on Oregon (1-5) for their last home game of the year. Oregon has struggled a bit, but their record is in no way an indication of their effort on the pitch. Coach Duffin McShane knows how to prepare his boys for any match against any opponent.
Western has turned a few heads this year. The Vikings got off to very slow start to their year with four straight losses, but somehow they have found a spark under coach Colin Campbell. Their most recent victory was against Washington State, and they would love nothing more than to keep their momentum going for another home game.
In Moscow, Idaho, it will be the host Vandals (1-6) against Washington (2-4). The tough times continue for Idaho, who are making a firs-year transition to DI rugby. Their lone victory came against Western, but they’ve since faced stiff competition, which hasn’t helped. However, you can never write off any team in this league, especially when a flyhalf like Philip Vrontamitis has a great leg.
The Huskies have had arguably the toughest year. They didn’t get started until week 4 against Oregon and, due to some weather conditions, had to play a lot of games in a short amount of time. Nevertheless, they're looking to get back in the win column and take momentum into Pullman, Wash. next weekend for the rugby version of the Apple Cup, and have a great shot with scrumhalf Justin Santos’s speed and awareness on the pitch.
Eastern Washington (2-3-1) will take on Central Washington (5-1) on their home pitch in Cheney, Wash. Eastern has the momentum after their victory last weekend and will be looking to make a strong showing against an always tough Central side. They are led by flanker Eric Populus, who continues to be consistent with scoring (20 points; fifth in league) and kicking (60%; third in league).
Though they aren’t eligible for the playoffs due to their other side being in DI-A, the Wildcats have made the most of their season. Having gone undefeated since week one, the Wildcats have outscored opponents 190-87, which speaks volumes about their depth.
Last, but not least, is the matchup of Oregon State (7-0) and Washington State (3-3-1). The Cougars were in the playoff hunt until last weekend’s loss to Western Washington in Bellingham, Wash. Coach Matt Hudson and the Cougars traveled without a full squad and may have taken the Vikings a little too lightly, but nonetheless, there are no excuses.
WSU will look to outside center Jordan Rehwaldt to damage a tough OSU backline and prop Robert Marquez to get some strong scrum work against a balanced forward pack.
As it’s been stated before, Oregon State has lived up to all expectations. The Beavers have been tested and delivered all seven times. Coach Anthony Lally has done a great job with his squad, and the Beavers look to represent the Pacific Northwest well in a few weekends in Palo Alto, Calif. for the Sweet 16. The Beavers will be led this weekend by wing and scoring machine Nate Kimmel, as well as captain Mike Gamm.
University of Utah Head Coach Blake Burdette may be wishing he hadn’t made the decision before the season to play Colorado and Air Force on consecutive days this weekend, but his team will have to do exactly that.
Both Colorado and Air Force remain in the hunt for the D1-A playoff spot, and to get there, they will have to go through Utah. Meanwhile the Utes, slightly ahead of the game in getting to the playoffs, still will need to win both games.
“It was unavoidable,” Burdette said of playing two games this weekend. “We had to do it this way because of schedules, exams, and finances. This made the most sense, but it won’t be easy.”
Coming off a 38-22 loss to BYU, the Utes have to feel confident they can score on anyone, but chastened, also, at the mistakes they made.
“There are some defensive mistakes we made, and there are some lineouts we’d like to have back, but we also did some good things,” said Burdette. “I think in the end, when you look at the games we’ve played against BYU and Cal, it’s almost a mental thing first. The guys have to put it out of their minds who they are playing and just play to their ability.”
The Utes were also unlucky enough to see flyhalf Danny Christenson miss a few makeable penalty goal attempts early. Burdette said that was strange, because Christenson was hitting everything in warm-ups.
“It’s just one of those days,” said Burdette. “I know he took it hard and he’s been out on his own with a bag of balls practicing. I thought Danny played a great game and really stood tall defending that #10 channel.”
Defense has been a big part of the team’s work this week, especially as their attack cohesion has begun to really come together.
“As I say to the players, if we don’t let them score any points, we have a good chance of winning the game,” said Burdette. “We know Colorado has the ability to score, and so does Air Force. Defense is going to be very important for us, and it comes down to mental focus.”
Air Force didn’t actually come up much in RUGBYMag.com’s interview with Burdette. He was thinking of Friday night at Colorado, a Pac 12 rivalry game as well as a key league matchup.
“We have to win against Colorado, so we’re not holding anything back,” Burdette said. “We will select our best team and do our best to go out and win. Then we’re going to do the same the next day.”
If Utah wins both games with a bonus point, and keeps Air Force from getting two bonus points, then the Utes will clinch 2nd place.
Current D1-A West standings; top two make the playoffs:
Glendale hosts San Francisco Golden Gate Saturday for a big-time friendly. It’ll be the first time SFGG and the Raptors have ever played, and it’s a meeting between the defending Super League champ and the defending DI champ.
Both teams are markedly different than last year, having lost some really good players and picked up a couple of others.
Glendale lost promising lock Casey Rock to Brothers Rugby Club in New Zealand. Dustin Croy, who started at wing for the Raptors last season, is in New Zealand, too. Glendale also lost Alec Parker to retirement and another towering second-rower in Keith Doubek.
But, the Raptors have picked up some serious talent, too. Capped Eagle and former Super Rugby back James Paterson joined Glendale, as did World Cup No. 8 Nic Johnson. Ryan Chapman, capped against Japan last year, returned to Glendale after spending a season in Utah.
SFGG lost Samu Manoa and Chris Biller, both capped Eagles, to the Aviva Premiership, and another Eagle, Danny LaPrevotte, to retirement. But they’ve replaced those guys with All Americans and welcomed Jone Naqica back into the fold.
So, this isn’t exactly a plus-one scenario, with the champs of two leagues meeting, but it’s close enough to excited about.
Both SFGG and Glendale have suffered less-than-pleasing results recently. Glendale went on the road to Kansas City last month and tied the Blues, and SFGG was outdone at home against Old Puget Sound Beach last week. The results have both teams hungry for a statement win.
“I think it’s going to be a huge test for us, despite the results last week,” said Glendale coach Mark Bullock. “It’s rugby. Anything can happen.”
Winning Saturday won’t just be read about on this site or talked about on Facebook, it’ll be seen on Fox Soccer Plus, which is broadcasting the game on a tape delay (we will release the re-air schedule as soon as we know it).
Both teams have stars and quality players littered around the park, but the game could well be decided by the halfbacks. Starting for SFGG are the usuals -- Mose Timoteo and Volney Rouse, who almost always combine for a better 9-10 connection than the opponent. But starting for Glendale are Daryl Furlong and Nese Malifa. Furlong is a former Leinster age-grade player and Nese is Nese. Twin brother Ata will be to his inside at No. 12.
Adding to the already intriguing story line is the return of a few former Raptors, like Tevita Okusi and John Thomas, to Infinity Park. Naqica also played for Bullock when they were both with the Denver Barbarians in 2000.
Combine the champions versus champions angle, the fact that both want to beef their reputation after disappointing results, the bevy of Eagles or Eagle prospects on both teams, the television coverage, and the fact that a few guys are playing against their former coach and/or team, and this match looks like the most intriguing of the weekend.
St. Mary's (RUGBYMag #1) takes on #3 BYU in a rematch of the game St. Mary's won Feb 15.Kickoff is at Noon Pacific Time, 1pm Mountain Time, 2pm Central, 3pm Eastern.Full live webstream here. Read more...
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