US play-offs begin

The road to the USA Rugby Super League championship will pass through Chicago, Long Beach and San Francisco on Saturday, the three venues where the eight quarter-finalists pair up.

Defending league champion Old Mission Beach Athletic Club and their roster full of National Team candidates is again in the hunt, but three regular-season losses have put the San Diego-based club in a tough spot.

OMBAC travel east for a showdown with White Conference champion the Chicago Lions, the second seed in the play-offs.

The Lions – directed by National Team Assistant Coach Marty Wiggins – cruised through the regular season, losing only to top-seeded and undefeated Belmont Shore along the way.

OMBAC fell to Belmont Shore, San Francisco Golden Gate and New York Athletic Club. But the San Diego-based club has the potential to explode at any time, as seen during the 88-7 win over Old Puget Sound Beach in Week six.

The Lions and OMBAC will play amid the annual Chicago Ball Rugby Tournament at the Chicago Blaze Rugby Pitch in Lemont, IL.

One interesting battle within the battle will be the scoring race between Chicago’s Andrew Tihore – the league’s second leading scorer (74 pts.) – and OMBAC’s Evan Haigh – the league’s sixth-leading scorer (55 pts.)

Following the Lions-OMBAC match, the Chicago Griffins will take the pitch in Lemont to host the New York Athletic Club in the second leg of a Chicago double-header.

The Griffins have been the most surprising team of the season, winning the Blue Conference and reaching the play-offs in their first year since promotion into the Super League.

In NYAC the Griffins will face a squad that knows what it takes to win a championship. NYAC was the Super League’s top team in 2005 and Head Coach Mike Tolkin still boasts one of the more talented back-lines in the league, including the team’s top scorer, centre John Cronin (35 pts.).

The Griffins have relied all season on strong midfield play from the fly-half/centre combination of player-coach Murray Roeske and newcomer Ryan Westaway, plus hard running from a mobile forward pack. They’ve surprised a few veteran Super League squads this year and hope to continue that trend.

Another surprise during the 2007 season has been the play of the Dallas Harlequins, who finally brought a healthy squad into the season and finished a strong third in the White Conference, upsetting a tough Denver Barbarians team along the way. The ‘Quins will look for center Vaughn Crowe – the league’s fourth leading scorer – to keep up his amazing kicking performance when they face undefeated Belmont Shore.

Crowe and his teammates will have to be on top of their games to pull off an upset of Belmont – the league’s only undefeated team in 2007. Led by National Team captain Mike Hercus and high-scoring center Jason Roache, Belmont seems intent on returning to the finals.

Two other squads with sights set on the finals are San Francisco Golden Gate and Old Blue of New York. The two perennial powerhouses play on San Francisco’s Treasure Island in a match that could easily go either way.

San Francisco Golden Gate has played quality rugby in 2007, notably downing OMBAC and a strong Santa Monica side. The Bay Area squad boasts one of the league’s biggest scoring threats in former Cal football star Shaun Paga, who has notched five tries on the wing this year.

Old Blue will look to exploit gaps in the SFGG defense with back-line standouts Clinton Courtney, Joe Azar and Brian O’Mahoney – all among the league’s top 20 scorers for 2007.

 

365 Digital

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