The Austin Blacks begin their Texas title defense Saturday in Houston against the Houston Athletic Rugby Club (HARC). The Blacks do so having added more than they lost in the personnel department.
The one glaring loss is No. 8 Will Martin, who led the Austin forward pack the last couple of years after winning a National Championship with Aspen. He has retired. Austin coach Lachlan Ferguson is hoping Martin’s first retirement will go the way of Michael Jordan’s.
“I think his body’s a bit beat up. He’s got bone spurs, it just hurts a bit,” said Ferguson of Martin. “I’m hoping once the season gets underway we might get him back again and he wants to give it one more go, but at the moment we don’t have him, so he would be a major loss.”
Elsewhwere in the back row, though, Austin has good depth. Sammy Areias and Austin Byrne, for example, will be battling for the No. 7 jersey. And Texas grad Kellen Burke will be fighting for back row minutes, too.
“Those two are going to have a fantastic season competing for that starting 7s spot,” said Ferguson of Areias and Byrne. “I know (Burke) was an important member of (Texas’) squad. He’s joined us this year and we’re really pleased he’s on board.”
Perhaps the Blacks’ biggest addition, though, is Curtis Chaffin. The former Dallas Harlequin, Woodlands Exile and West 7s All Star will likely slot into Austin’s starting backline immediately.
“Primarily I’m looking at him as an attacking 13,” said Lachlan of Chaffin. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s very strong. He’s obviously very quick, and what I like about him is he’s very quick between the ears, so I think he’s got huge potential for us.”
Austin had a good season last year, winning Texas, beating New Orleans in a pre-playoff tune up and advancing to the National Quarterfinals with a 22-20 win over OMBAC. But then they ran into the buzzsaw that was Glendale, falling 61-10 to the Raptors the day after beating the SoCal runners up.
“That happens, and our guys, I think we have learned from it, and they can see where it gets to the sharp end of the season they need to step it up a couple of levels,” said Ferguson.
“We got found out in terms of depth. We competed really well on the Saturday when we played OMBAC, but then we were a bit short of having some depth and freshness on the Sunday, which we’ll try to fix for this year.”
Though Austin lost to Glendale by 51, Lachlan says his team was better than the score indicated, and that it can take another step up this year.
“If you looked at the score, you’d say we’ve got a huge mountain to climb. But realistically our guys, and I think the Glendale guys, think the score didn’t indicate the game,” he said.
“I think the gap is a lot closer than it appeared in that last game. I think most teams would recognize that. I think we’re there and abouts this year, but what’s really good from the Austin Blacks perspective is being successful in Texas is one thing, but we really desire that success at the National stage.”