It’s another milestone weekend for rugby in America as the Elite Cup kicks off its inaugural campaign. The competition replaces the Super League and is intended to bring together the best teams in the country. While it doesn’t include every team that would be considered in the top tier—most notably Belmont Shore—it does offer enough of the best teams to make it the most intriguing and tight competition in the country.
The eight teams in the competition are divided into East (New York Athletic Club, Old Blue, Boston, Life) and West (Old Puget Sound Beach, San Francisco Golden Gate, Denver, Glendale) conferences. Each conference will play a three round pool stage (each team playing the other once) before holding conference finals on May 11th and a final on May 25th.
So with the basics out of the way, let’s predict how we think the season might turn out.
1. New York Athletic Club. Last year’s Super League champions returns with essentially the same talented team that played so well in 2012. Led by the Eagles halfback pairing of Mike Petri and Toby L’Estrange, NYAC will be expected to be one of the more savvy teams on the competition. NYAC are also arguably one of the most balanced teams. Losing Lou Stanfill to overseas hurts, but with the likes of Al McFarland and Neil McMilla they should be in good shape. Expect them to sweep through the East and make it to the title match.
2. Life. Life are a strong program that consistently places players on or near the national team. Just this last season saw Cornelius Dirksen earn his first caps for the Eagles. One of Life’s biggest advantages is their availability to train and prepare for their opponents. During such a condensed season where very small details in a match could be the difference between winning or losing, that preparation is vital. Still, when it comes down to it Life are still a step behind NYAC.
3. Boston. Everyone around Boston acknowledges that last year was a down season, but they are also optimistic that this year will be even better. They are a veteran teams that relies on a stable of solid, but not spectacular players. Boston had a good run in the Super League only a few seasons back, but in order to recreate that run they are going to have to have someone special emerge.
4. Old Blue. Like Boston, Old Blue are going to have to have something special in order to break through NYAC and Life. They have done a good job of bringing promising players over the last few years, but the trick is holding onto them. Luke Hume got the opportunity to play with the team last year, but now he has moved onto the Eagles 7’s residency program. It’s difficult to see Old Blue beating NYAC and Life, but they possibly could be Boston, but we think it’s not this year.
1. San Francisco Golden Gate. From top to bottom SFGG have the best collection of talent in the country. Mose Timoteo is as an experience scrumhalf has they come. Volney Rouse has been in national team camp, as has Mile Pulu. Then there is Chris Biller, the Eagles starting hooker. The team has also brought in Tevita Koloamatangi from the Tasman Makos. So far in the NorCal DI season SFGG has blown their opponents out of the water. They also already have a big victory over OPSB. Overall the team is playing well and are primed for a big run, not only in the West but for the overall title.
2. Old Puget Sound Beach. OPSB have nearly as much talent as SFGG, but they are working in some of that new talent and are getting accustomed to new coach Justin Fitzpatrick. Like SFGG, OPSB have torn through NorCal. However, they did get in a good solid match in a narrow win over BYU a few weeks back. The biggest question for OPSB is whether they can knock off SFGG in what is developing into one of the fiercest rivalries in American rugby. They beat them last year in the playoffs by a healthy margin and in their loss earlier this Spring had some missing players. Still, we think that SFGG are simply on too much of a roll right now to be stopped.
3. Glendale Raptors. If the Raptors were in the East we would be talking about them as likely participants in the conference championship match. However, seeing as they are in the same conference as SFGG and OPSB, it’s going to be difficult for the Raptors to break through. Thanks to their amazing facilities the club has been able to lure strong players to the team, with former BYU star Shaun Davies being the latest edition. Eagles Zach Fenoglio, Nic Johnson, and James Paterson are also on the team although Johnson and Paterson may not be healthy enough for the entire season. The Raptors should be a tough opponent, but it’s hard to see them coming in either first or second in the West.
4. Denver Barbarians. The Barbarians are a good team but unfortunately that might not show through this year thanks to the other West teams. Maximo DeArchaval is a good player but overall the Barbarians lack the depth to be a serious contender. They did beat the Raptors last fall but that with key players missing from each side.
SFGG. We think that SFGG, OPSB, NYAC, and Life will each advance to the conference semi-finals with SFGG and NYAC advancing to the final. Both teams may lose players to the Eagles that day (Pacific Nations Cup match with Canada) and as such SFGG has just that much more depth that NYAC, giving them the win.
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