The top domestic men's competition in America, the USA Rugby Super League, is down to its last four teams.
This weekend Life, San Francisco Golden Gate, Belmont Shore, and Denver will take the field with the same goal in mind…reaching the Super League Finals.
Only one win separates these four great teams and a shot at a Super League title.
No. 1 Blue Life Running Eagles vs. No. 2 Red Belmont Shore
The first semifinal takes place in Georgia, as Belmont Shore travels to face the Life Running Eagles and this is going to be a instant classic. Both teams come into the semifinals without a loss, Life at 8-0 and Belmont Shore at 7-0-1.
The only blemish on Belmont Shore’s season came with a Week 1 tie to the Chicago Lions. Two undefeated teams, so something has to give. One way or another one of these teams is going home with a loss on Saturday.
The game likely will come down to if Life’s defense can shut down Belmont Shore’s firepower. Belmont has gotten big production out of centers Craig Wells and Peter Sio, but Life counters with a fine pair of centers in Nate Rogers and Tui Osbourne.
For Life, it may just be a matter of playing their game. Nolte Coetzee gives them a good kicking game and will keep the points ticking on the scoreboard and their defense may be the best in the Super League.
The intangible here is Belmont Shore’s experience in these type of games. With a string a seven consecutive trips to the finals on the line and nine overall final appearances under their belts, this is not their first dance. This cannot be ignored.
Despite their long layoff from the Super League, Life has re-acclimated themselves to the Super League in remarkable fashion.
With a poised, fit, and well-drilled side they could end Belmont Shore’s remarkable streak. Simply put, this is going to be a great game.
Rugby America Pick: Life Running Eagles
No. 1 Red San Francisco Golden Gate vs. No. 3 Red Denver Barbarians
San Francisco Golden Gate plays host to the Denver Barbarians in the other RSL semifinal this weekend. The two teams last met in Week 1 of the season and SFGG rolled easily, 45-10.
The Barbarians have come a very long way since then, namely with the mid-season insertion of former University of Colorado flyhalf Maximo De Achaval into the lineup.
Since that time, Denver’s only loss was a narrow defeat to Belmont Shore and De Achaval has played a big part of their revival. This game should be far from the blowout that some may expect, although it would be folly to ignore the sheer firepower of the SFGG attack.
Going back through the archives, few teams in RSL history have put up similar scoring numbers against the type of competition SFGG has faced this season. With flyhalf Volney Rouse steering the offense and weapons all around him, it’s easy to overlook their defense which has played well all season.
Pulling off an upset will take a huge effort by the Barbarians, but it is far from impossible. To avoid the upset, SFGG will need to keep from looking ahead to the finals.
Rugby America Pick: San Francisco Golden Gate
As the teams prepare for the Semifinals and ultimately the Finals on May 30, the spectre of the USA Eagles game against Ireland on May 31 is casting a shadow over the Super League playoffs.
Save for Life, the other three teams left in the RSL competition stand to lose some of their best players if they win this weekend and reach the Finals.
The rugby scene in America is obviously not the same as in major rugby playing nations, but this is akin to the Super 14 Championship being played the same weekend as a Tri-Nations test.
However you slice it up, it isn’t fair to the clubs involved. Clubs that have worked hard all season to reach this point, invested a substantial amount of money into their squads, and to then get stripped of their best players when they need them most.
The same can be said for the players that must make a choice between the club that supports them, in many ways, throughout the year and their hopes of pulling on an Eagles jersey and representing their country.
Stay tuned to Rugby America to see how it all shakes out!