This weekend is one of the biggest, most important weekends in American rugby.
Three national champions will be crowned, 56 national playoff games will be played, and two national 7s teams will also step on the field.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on:
The USA men’s team is in Pool B with France, Samoa, and England. This has been a challenging year for the USA. They can move into the top 10 with a decent showing.
The USA women’s team is in Pool C of the Women’s 7s Challenge Cup – London. They join China, France, and Australia in the Pool of Death in that competition. Any one of these teams is capable of finishing 1st. Australia has to be favored, but the improving USA team can beat them if they keep their defensive shape.
Women College Championships
Friday the semifinals for both DI and DII are held at Stanford University. Stanford gets to play, which is nice, and they take on Brown, a tough, strong-scrumming, bruising team. Stanford, for the most part, is known as a team that lives and dies by its backs and halfbacks. Speed should win out for Stanford.
The other semifinal will be a clash of major proportions. Penn State is as effective a unit from 1-15 as there is in college rugby. They know what they need to do, they can exploit weaknesses, and their forwards are very tough. But Women’s Cougar Rugby (BYU) has talent all over the place. They can kick goals, they offload out of the tackle well, and they can defend. This could be WCR’s year to break through the Penn State monopoly of eight straight appearances in the final. The last team to beat PSU in the semis was Air Force (12-10 in 2003).
In DII, Norwich v. Washington State has the feel of a national final even though it’s a semis. WSU won the national title in 2010 while Norwich won the national 7s title in December. Both groups can run and can play defense. They are very different schools, very different support, very different weather. But they play well.
Shippensburg v. Winona State is a game of contrasts, as Shippensburg often wins through their backs, and Winona is more through the forwards. Ship is favored here, and could go all the way as Norwich and WSU beat each other up on Friday.
Men D1-A College
BYU takes on Life University in Georgia and Arkansas State goes to St. Mary’s in California.
These are four evenly-matched teams. Life should test BYU as much as any team, but the Cougars are still favored. St. Mary’s have to be favored, slightly, at home.
Men DI Club
East Palo Alto Bulldogs v. Kansas City Blues
Belmont Shore v. Dallas Reds
Mystic River v. Atlanta Renegades
PAC v. Metropolis
Chicago Lions v. Boston Irish Wolfhounds
Palmer College v. Norfolk Blues
Glendale v. Santa Monica
Austin v OMBAC
That’s the lineup of games, with each pair of games seeing their winners and losers playing on Sunday.
The Group of Death here is probably the last one, with defending champs Glendale facing Santa Monica, which won the title in 2005 and 2006. Austin, finalists in 2007 take on OMBAC, who haven’t won DI since 1996 but won a Super League title ten years later, and finished 2nd in Southern California.
Men DII Club
Naples v. Montauk
Rocky Gorge v. Eastside
Santa Rosa v. Albuquerque
Omaha GOATS v. ORSU
San Diego Old Aztecs v. St. Louis Bombers
Snake River v. Pasadena
Charleston v. Wilmington
Wisconsin v. Middlesex
This is a very competitive group. Naples looks outstanding. Old Aztecs v. St. Louis in the first round could have been a semifinal. Wisconsin v. Middlesex, a clash of territorial champions, could be the final.
The team to watch out for is Albuquerque, the 2009 runners up, who are ranked #3 in their region but are better than that.
Men DIII Club
Cleveland v. New London
Virginia v. New Orleans
Wichita v. Tucson
Budd Bay v. KC Blues
South Bay v. Modesto
Northern State v. Sin City Irish
Syracuse v. St. Paul
Philadelphia-Whitemarsh v. Gainesville
DIII is always a group of unknowns. Spare a thought for Budd Bay, who, for the second time in three years, open their playoffs against the DIII version of a top club. KC Blues are in two playoffs, which should be interesting to see how they handle their resources being spread so thin. New Orleans fields a DIII team that – don’t be fooled – played exceedingly well even when their DI guys were half a continent away.
Watch out for Cleveland and Syracuse.
Fallbrook v. Amazons
Catholic Memorial v. West Carroll
DSHA v. Downingtown
Kent v. Lakewood
There’s been some complaints about the invitation process, and certainly Mother Lode has a beef. They probably should be in this group, and ideally they show some staying power and can be invited next year.
The games to watch in the first round are Kent v. Lakewood (your peerless editor coached against both in playoff games. Scores 24-17, 21-10, 22-17, 10-0 … all losses). Kent and Lakewood are very well matched and outstanding programs. This Kent team might be peaking t the right time.
The other matchup to watch is Catholic Memorial, considered the second-best team in the Midwest, and West Carroll, who are having an amazing season.
Fallbrook looks set to run to the final, but who they face is still up in the air.