If rugby fans in America don’t celebrate the six-month mark before Thanksgiving, they should. May is turning out to be the best month of year annually. Not only does the 7’s season come down to its last two legs in Glasgow and London, but the Rugby Super League is in high gear, and the College playoffs are in full swing. So with that in mind, let’s look at five things to watch out for this weekend:
1. BYU vs. Life
Some fans have dubbed this the “real DI-A Championship.” St. Mary’s and Arkansas St. will certainly disagree, but it is hard to argue that two top rugby teams will be going at it this weekend in Marietta, Georgia. Besides going 8-0 (Life) and 7-0 (BYU) on the season, both teams steamrolled through their divisions scoring a combined 1.077 points in the regular season while only giving up 149. Their dominance continued last weekend as BYU beat UCLA 103-27 and Life beat Penn State 75-3.
With both teams so evenly matched, who has the advantage? If you are looking at opponents, BYU has had a much tougher schedule than Life. BYU went out and tested themselves against tough teams like Super League studs Old Puget Sound Beach and were very competitive. They also arguably had the more difficult league season. Still, Life aren’t pushovers. They possess a lot of speedsters and could give the Cougars a tough time. Ultimately though, the BYU frontline should absolutely dominate over Life. Players like Mike Su’a are monsters up front and create a lot of space for players like Paul Lasike and Shaun Davies to be creative on the outside. BYU should win the match, but it isn’t certain, as they will play their first real competition of the season.
2. London 7’s
Both the U.S. Men’s and Women’s 7’s team will be in action this weekend and will be looking to earn hardware. The men are in a tough pool with Samoa, England, and France. After enduring rough season, the team will want to finish the season on a high note. Giving the team hope is their play last week in Glasgow where they nearly upset Australia and England. Colin Hawley, Shalom Suniula, and Zack Test lead the team, while youngster Rocco Mauer will look to continue to score tries. The key for the U.S. over the weekend is continuing to keep possession and limit their turnovers, while making their tackles. If they are able to do that, they could see some success.
For the women, they are heading into their fourth tournament of the season and will be looking to build off of their 3rd place finish in Hong Kong. (Read a preview here.) Led by Katie Dowty, Vanesha McGee, and Kelly Griffin, the women Eagles are in a pool with Australia, China, and France. They should be able to make it past China and France, but could have trouble with Australia. Still, having been in residency since January, the team has chemistry that other teams can’t match. Look out for them to have a great tournament.
3. European Playoffs
Lost in the shuffle of domestic and 7’s action is the playoff push by several teams in Europe with Americans on them. Leading the way are Chris Wyles and the Saracens. The Sarries travel to Leicester to take on the Tigers in an all-important Aviva Premiership semi-final. A win would put Wyles and the Saracens into the final for the third year in a row. Wyles is a big part of the Saracens team and will want to bring a Premiership title with him when he assembles with the Eagles in the Summer.
Elsewhere, Northampton, with Americans Samu Manoa and Chris Biller, will play league-leaders Harlequins in the other Premiership semi-final. If Manoa is able to return from injury, play for the Saints, and upset the Quins, it will cap off a fairy tale season for the former San Francisco Golden Gate player. In the RaboDirect Pro12, U.S.-eligible Hanno Dirksen will start for the Ospreys against Munster, and Tommy Seymour and the Glasgow Warriors will take on Leinster.
In the RFU Championship, Shawn Pittman and London Welsh go into the last leg of their semi-final with Bedford up by 10 points. Reports this week have indicated that if the Exiles were to win the league, they would be eligible for promotion. Andrew Suniula and the Cornish Pirates are up by 21 points against Bristol in their semi-final. An Eagle vs. Eagle match is possible if both teams win.
4. St. Mary’s vs. Arkansas St.
Much of the attention has been focused on the BYU-Life this weekend, but the DI-A semi-final matchup with St. Mary’s and Arkansas St. is nothing to be ignored. St. Mary’s have had a terrific season, knocking off Cal in a big upset. Arkansas St. has similarly had a good season. Led by Shaun Potgeiter, Arkansas St. are one of the most underrated teams in college rugby. The quality on display in this match will be extremely high.
5. The Rest of the Playoffs
In addition to the DI-A semi-finals, the Women’s DI and DII Championships take place this weekend at Stanford University and the Men’s club playoffs continue around the country. No matter where you live, there will be a high-level rugby match for you to take in. Teams to look out for in the Women’s tournaments are BYU and Penn State. In the Men’s DI, the Glendale Raptors will look to repeat as DI champions but will have to go through Santa Monica.
So, for all American rugby fans, this is the weekend to sit back, relax, and take in the best rugby your country has to offer!
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