Champions of DII club rugby in 2010-11, New Orleans is already 1-0 in the new USA Rugby South DI league, and looking to add on to their tally.
Head Coach Jerry Malina said he felt his team breathed a sigh of a relief after their opening match, a 31-29 home win over defending South champs the Atlanta Renegades.
“We feel fortunate that we were able to win a very close game against the Renegades,” Malina told RUGBYMag.com. “It could have gone either way, but it was a great result for us to be able to gain some confidence. This weekend I think we’re going to be pretty stressed.”
Boca Raton comes into New Orleans for the third league game in the entire South league (Atlanta defeated Charlotte in the second). But NOLA will have players elsewhere. Three of their players, including leader Jeff Reuther, are with the South All-Stars at the NACRA 7s in Barbados. Another entire team is defending the club’s championship at the Battleship Rugby Tournament.
“Fortunately we have the depth to handle it,” said Malina. “A lot of our talent has been home-grown. We had some success here with our U20 program, and those kids went off to college – some at LSU or other schools – and they’ve come back. Our depth and our numbers have been pretty good.”
Leading the way up front had been flanker Jarrett Falcon, while LSU products Bobby Johns and Saade Bou-Mikael have become key additions in the backs.
All that will be important as this new DI club season moves on.
“We were told before last season that the top two teams from DII would have to move up to DI,” said Malina. “That was OK. But I think it would have been a lot harder to handle had we not been able to get past Tampa and win the DII national title. Having accomplished that made it more of a natural progression to go to DI.”
The move up is more than just a move up in competition; it’s a move up in travel, too.
The South has to be one of those most widespread leagues in the country (while the West-North is in the big states, only one team, Kansas City, is outside the greater Denver area).
Even with some teams doubling up on road games in a weekend, the five teams in the South will travel over 16,000 miles this season. New Orleans, which won’t double up, will log the most with over 4,400.
“I think the players relish the opportunity to challenge themselves,” said Malina. “I know our commitment is strong enough we will be able to go strong to those places.”
Estimated travel for clubs in the DI South:
Atlanta Renegades: 2,475
Boca Raton: 3,100
New Orleans: 4,430