Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Tomorrow, the USA Rugby Super League’s best will do battle to see who takes home the 2008 title. Set to be broadcast live on ESPN Classic, everyone involved will be hoping for a classic battle of two of the RSL’s strongest clubs.
The clubs are very different from each other, but here they stand in the championship and the outcome is not as predictable as one might imagine. It’s easy to look up and down the Belmont Shore lineup and see reasons why they are going into the match as the clear cut favorites.
Belmont Shore boasts a stellar cast of players that includes three players in the Eagles Churchill Cup squad in Henry Bloomfield, Ben Weidemer, and Nese Malifa. Go one step further and the US Select XV… aka… USA “B” is loaded with Belmont Shore players Mark Kernan, Jared Wolfgramm, Peter Dahl, Ata Malifa, and James Gillenwater. Then throw in former Leinster, Leicester, Worcester, and Ireland A hooker Gavin Hickie for good measure. Belmont Shore has the kind of club that can do the dirty work in the forwards and at the same time carve up defenses with their backs.
On the flip side you have the New York Athletic Club. Not nearly as glamorous as their opponent, but they continue to win against quality opponents. NYAC only boasts one player in the Churchill Cup squad in scrumhalf Mike Petri. They also trail Belmont in the US Select XV squad with three players in Brain Doyle, Chris Mayo, and Justin Hundley. NYAC has a very business like style and they have the ability to put a stranglehold on a match.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. For the 2008 season, including playoffs.
7-2 record, 4-2 in matches against opponents over .500
Averages 32.8 points per match and gives up an average of 15.7 per match
8-1, 5-1 vrs. in matches against opponents over .500
Averages 32 points per match and gives up an average of 16 per match
Those numbers are nearly identical and that’s one of the reasons that they’re playing in the finals and not watching from home. Take out NYAC’s blowouts against Washington and Philly Whitemarsh and their average scored per match is closer to 24 points though. The telling stat for me is the last few weeks for NYAC. Their last three matches have all been against playoff level opponents with fast strike offenses and they have ground out all three of them for wins. The scorelines haven’t been as pretty as Belmont Shore’s, but it shows me that these guys are in playoff mode and they’re prepared to win reagrdless of how many points they put on the board. Likewise for Belmont, their last three matches have been the same type with their “do or die” final regular season match with OMBAC and their two playoff wins. Except Belmont has rolled through their opponents.
I think this is a very interesting matchup of two different styles. Both scrummage well, so there isn’t an advantage for either club up front. NYAC’s unsung heroes have proven that they should not be overlooked and Belmont has put up points on everyone. NYAC is going to need a big kicking day out of Luke Milton both tactically and for points in which he has run hot and cold. NYAC is going to need to forget about the 32-20 home loss to Belmont earlier in the season. They’re also going to need some breaks if they’re going to have a repeat of their 2005 RSL Championship win over Belmont Shore.
So, for my final prediction of the 2008 RSL season who do I go with? I currently sit at 26-14 on the season and it would be nice to finish off with a win. It’s hard to bet against Belmont Shore, but I like how NYAC has tightended the reigns on some very good offensive clubs in the last few weeks. Belmont Shore has so much firepower across the pitch and have the ability to grind out a win as well. So, I’m going with Belmont Shore in what will hopefully be a match that goes down as a classic.
Best of luck to both clubs and the same goes for everyone out there playing rugby this weekend.