Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy, Editor, Rugby America
As the USA Rugby Super League prepares to open up their 2011 season, it goes without saying… don’t blink because you might miss it. The regular season lasts a mere eight weekends, two of which are abbreviated. With such a short season and the level of competition, all it may take is one slip up to cost a team a shot at the playoffs.
Fortunately for the competition and fans, the league has recently decided, at their winter meetings, to explore options that will extend the season into the summer thus allowing teams to play more games. While plans for the expansion are still being hashed out, the eleven teams that make up the competition are prepping for what might be the last season of the Super League in its current format.
For the 2011 season, teams have been split up into two divisions, East (Blue) and West (Red).
The defending Super League Champs, New York Athletic Club head the Blue Conference along with Life, Boston, New York Old Blue, Chicago Lions, and Chicago Griffins. The Lions and Griffins make the switch from the Red Conference to the Blue, making an already tough division even tougher.
The teams making up the Red Conference include San Francisco Golden Gate, Old Puget Sound Beach, Denver Barbarians, Dallas Harlequins, and the new Utah Warriors.
The four teams that left the Super League following the 2010 combined to go 4-19 last season. With those teams gone from the competition, things are going to be a lot more competitive. The bottom line is that some very good teams will end this season with losing records.
With the two Chicago sides moving to the Blue Conference and 3 of the 4 semifinalists in 2010 also coming from the Blue Conference, it could be argued that the balance of power in the Super League has shifted.
Taking a look at the Blue Conference the New York Athletic Club has to be part of the title conversation. The defending champs are a perennial contender for the title. NYAC is a well drilled side that plays clinical rugby and uses their experience better than any other team in the league.
Not far behind them is Life… actually, not far at all. The two teams tied in their only matchup last season. The team at Life lives and breathes rugby and it shows on the field. Expect them to challenge for both a conference and league title.
The two Chicago teams are a welcome addition to the conference after playing last season in the Red Conference. With a much less difficult travel schedule ahead of them, expect the Lions and Griffins to be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Boston is coming off one of their best seasons yet having reached the RSL semifinals in 2010 where they lost to conference rival NYAC. Boston has made enormous strides in recent years and expects that trend to continue as they develop more talent.
Rounding out the conference is New York Old Blue. Even though the squad has been rumored to leave the Super League on multiple occasions, they are still a formidable opponent and not to be overlooked.
As opposed to seasons past, there is not a weak link in the entire conference and it will be interesting to see how the teams fare come playoff time after playing what amounts to a playoff match every week.
Shifting coasts, we take a look at the Red Conference. San Francisco Golden Gate is the top dog in the conference and is on the prowl after losing in the title game last season. When the team is healthy, they play an exciting brand of rugby. SFGG opens up their season this weekend on the road to face the Dallas Harlequins.
There are plenty of teams nipping at SFGG’s heels in the Red Conference. One of them is Old Puget Sound Beach. OPSB had a banner year in 2010. They reached the RSL playoffs and then turned around and won the Club 7’s National Championship in the summer.
Can they keep the momentum going and push past SFGG to the top of the conference?
The Denver Barbarians are another team that has been on the cusp of a title in recent years. Great organization, great players, and great coaching, but they just haven’t gotten over the hump.
The Dallas Harlequins suffered through a trying 2010 season and will have a difficult time this season. A squad that has always been very competitive at home, the Harlequins have fared poorly on the road. Being isolated in Dallas doesn’t make matters any easier on the team.
Finishing off the Red Conference are the newcomers, Utah Warriors. A team compiled of Utah based talent and operating with a business model, the Warriors are the most intriguing newcomer to the Super League quite possibly… ever.
The Warriors will face their challenges in the tough competition, but has a ton of talent. They could turn out to be the surprise of the season.
Aside from the obstacles that need circumvented in order to overcome the lopsided number of teams, this is quite possibly the most competitive group of teams, top to bottom, to ever play in the Super League. With massive changes to the league on the horizon, it may be some time before the competition again has this level of parity.
The 2011 USA Rugby Super League season kicks off this weekend with two games on the slate. San Francisco Golden Gate travel to face the Dallas Harlequins and the Utah Warriors face off against the Denver Barbarians.
Stay tuned to Rugby America for coverage of the 2011 Super League season.