This past weekend saw 40 of the nation’s top senior rugby clubs converge at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Spring Trail Park in Irving, Texas, for the 2014 USA Rugby Emirates Airline National Quarterfinals & Semifinals event.
In the western bracket (Texas), New Orleans Rugby won both matches to advance to its first Division I National Championship appearance. The club won the Division II National Championship in 2011, with its reserve side winning the Division III National Championship in 2012. Last year, the club fell to eventual runner-up Seattle-OPSB in a thrilling Semifinal match. At this year’s event, New Orleans encountered a feisty Dallas Reds club eager to dispatch New Orleans in front of a very partisan Dallas crowd. Ultimately, New Orleans overcame Dallas in a thrilling, 34-29 Semifinal match. New Orleans and Dallas advanced past the Sacramento Lions and Los Angeles Rugby, respectively, in the National Quarterfinals.
Women’s Division I saw Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) pace past Denver Black Ice to claim its first ever birth in the National Championship Final. ORSU, led by former Eagle standout Beckett Royce, also dispatched the Austin Valkyries in the Quarterfinals while Black Ice battled past the Santa Monica Dolphins.
Men’s Division II play saw plenty of scoring as the Tempe Old Devils overcame both the Glendale Raptors DII [Developmental] side and a quality Little Rock Stormers team. The scoring in Division II was plentiful as all four teams took advantage of the fast playing surface to create exciting matches for the 1,000-plus spectators in attendance. This year’s championship appearance will be the third bite at the apple for Tempe’s XVs program, as it finished as National Runner-up in both 1996 and 2003. Former champion Snake River (1996) was also in the bracket, falling to Little Rock in the Quarterfinals.
Building off of its historically-strong high school program, the Sacramento Amazons advanced out of the Women’s Division II bracket by overcoming a strong Las Vegas Slots side in the National Semifinal. The win marks Sacramento’s first national championship final appearance. In the Quarterfinals, the Amazons defeated Houston Athletic (HARC), while Las Vegas defeated the Kansas Jayhawks.
In Men’s Division III, upstart Life West Gladiators battled over top of the Southern California Kings in a national Semifinal that enraptured the crowd. The club also saw its way past hometown favorites Dallas Athletic (DARC), while the Kings pulled off a thrilling victory over the Kansas City Islanders. Life West is the west coast branch of Life University, which is historically one of the U.S.’s premier institutions in support of the growth of American rugby.
In the eastern bracket (Pittsburgh), the defending Division I men’s club champion Life University overtook historic NYAC in the National Quarterfinals before downing Metropolis Rugby in its Sunday Semifinal encounter. Life is a three-time 15s champion overall, and will be making its seventh national championship final appearance. Notably, Life’s collegiate program finished runner-up to St. Mary’s in the Men’s Division 1A Collegiate Championship May 10. The Schuylkill River Exiles were also in attendance, falling to Metropolis in their Quarterfinal clash.
Chicago North Shore, the 2011 Women’s Division I champion, will look to regain it title in Madison after advancing through the Women’s Division I eastern bracket. In sloppy field conditions, North Shore defeated Northern Virginia (NOVA) Rugby in the Quarterfinals before taking down Boston Rugby in the Semifinals. By extension of the results in other brackets, Chicago North Shore will be the closest participating team to historic Breese Stevens Field in Madison.
Men’s Division II saw the closest matches of the weekend, where 2013 champion Wisconsin Rugby took on 2012 champion Rocky Gorge Rugby in an epic, mud-infested Quarterfinal encounter. Rocky Gorge ultimately persevered as the winner, and narrowly defeated New Haven Old Black in the National Semifinal. Atlanta Old White also participated, giving New Haven Old Black a fantastic match on Saturday before encountering Wisconsin in the consolation match.
Hometown favorites and reigning champions Pittsburgh Angels emerged out of the Women’s Division II bracket, where they will get a chance to defend their title with one more victory. In front of a lively Founders Field crowd, the Angels defeated a strong Severn River Rugby side before overwhelming a developmental Beantown Rugby DII side in the Semifinals. The Fort Miami Iron Bees also took the field, falling to Beantown in the Saturday Quarterfinal event.
There was no shortage of drama in Men’s Division III, as Old Blue of New York DIII fought past strong opposition in the form of the Montgomery Yellowhammers (Quarterfinals) and Tri-City Barbarians (Semifinals). After falling to the Oceanside Chiefs in an epic multiple-overtime final in last year’s DIII championship, the developmental, reserve side players of Old Blue will get another chance to bring home some hardware. The Washington Renegades also participated, notably becoming the first IGRAB team to advance to the National Quarterfinals. The Renegades will participate in this year’s Bingham Cup in Sydney, an event named after fallen 9/11 hero (and former rugger) Mark Bingham.
With the Quarterfinals and Semi-Finals now concluded, 10 teams will now descend on Breese Stevens Field in Madison, Wisconsin, for the National Championship Finals May 31. A historic, 4,000-seat stadium located in the heart of downtown Madison, Breese Stevens Field is being colloquially referred to as the ‘Wrigley Field of Rugby.’ Tickets to the event are just $10, and may also be coupled with a ticket to the Wisconsin High School Rugby Championships, which will be held Sunday, June 1, for an additional $5 ($15 for a two-day pass). Group rates are also available, and tickets may be purchased here.
FIXTURE & RESULTS – Click Brackets at the top to view results.
Saturday, May 31
Life West vs Old Blue (Men’s Division 3) – 10:00 am CST
Sacramento Amazons vs Pittsburgh Angels (Women’s Division 2) – 12:15 pm CST
Tempe vs Rocky Gorge (Men’s Division 2) – 2:30 pm CST
Chicago NS vs ORSU (Women’s Division 1) – 4:45 pm CST
New Orleans vs Life (Men’s Division 1) – 7:00 pm CST
All matches will be streamed live on USA Rugby TV. Archives of the event should be available by June 7, 2014 on the same channel. Can’t watch? Get live updates on Twitter or Facebook.