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RRRC Championship Preview

After the completion of the D3 Quarterfinals and the regular season, the stage is set for the TRU/RRRC Championships this weekend. In this article we look at the match-ups to expect in Austin, as well as a bit on the teams that have already qualified for the next round of playoffs and when and where those are to be played.

The Men’s Division 1 and Women’s Division 1 Champions will not play in Austin on April 23rd weekend, so we’ll look at them first.

Men's Division 1

After an impressive season, the Dallas RFC are representing the RRRC in the hunt for the D1 Men’s National Championship. At the start of the season, it looked like it would be a fight to the death as Dallas topped the Austin Huns by two points, then lost to the Austin Blacks at home by two points. As the new year dawned, Dallas turned a corner; they stopped the nail biters and instead focused on executing their game plan. There has never been a question of skill available to the Dallas club, this team is stacked with athletes and good rugby minds, but what really turned the tides this year was Dallas’ ability to work together and stay positive under pressure. Between putting up massive numbers against some of the weaker D1 sides, Dallas had convincing two-try wins over both the Austin Huns at home and against rivals, the Austin Blacks, at Burr Field – enough for the point differential to give them this final nod to playoffs. Dallas will play in the USA Rugby National D1 semifinal on May 20th in Kennesaw, GA against the Pacific Conference Champion. The winner will go to the National Championship match on Sunday May 22nd.

Players to Watch:

Lock Jonny Heron is hard to miss, he’s a threat physically but also knows the game better than anyone; he’s been leading the Dallas side this year. Dominating the set piece will be the king of the scrum Simba Musarurwa; the Zimbabwean prop. From the backline, it’s the international duo of playmaker Blake Boulton and power runner Jake Campey. These two have an incredible amount of experience from the States and abroad, and work together in perfect synchronicity.

Women's Division 1

The Women’s Division 1 playoffs are determined from regular season standings. The number 1 seed hosts the number 2 seed on May 7th, the winner going directly to the National semifinal match on May 20th. Currently the Gray Wolves and the sHARCs are tied in the standings, but both have one match left – against each other. On Sunday April 24th, the sHARCs will host the Gray Wolves at Rice University. Last time when Houston traveled to Colorado, the Gray Wolves were dominant, winning the battle 57-19. That match was also played as part of a double-header weekend, at altitude. A lot of factors working against the Houston team that could have led to the scoreline that gave the Gray Wolves the nod. Also remember that the Women’s Premier League season has started and the Wolves have a side in that competition which may affect the roster for the rematch. Now the Gray Wolves are on Texas soil, and that may be the upper edge the sHARCs need. Winner of this match gains the privilege of hosting the quarterfinal rematch on May 7th. So they’ll both have plenty of time to test the opponent and adjust their gameplan, while still fighting to gain home field advantage.

The sHARCs have had a great season currently standing 6-1, their only loss coming from the Gray Wolves earlier in April. It seems that they are getting stronger as the season progresses; take their games against Black Ice for example. At home in February they beat Black Ice 35-20, in April they traveled and smashed Black Ice 71-0. The trend was the same against local rivals Austin as well. If Houston can keep building momentum, they could beat the Gray Wolves at home and host the May 7th National quarterfinal. It’ll all come out on Sunday.

Players to Watch:

The unbeatable front row combination of Mary Waller and Chelsea Peper is a terror, expect them to demolish the set piece. From the backs we love the try-scoring Nadira Smith at wing and Abrianna Asante in the centers. Both of these players have serious pace and the ability to break tackles to make those few extra meters to the goal line.

The Men’s Division 2 and 3 as well as the Women’s Division 2 will determine champions at Burr Field this weekend; the semifinal match-ups are below. Winners from each match will proceed to the final on Sunday April 24th. The three winners at the end of the day on Sunday will progress to the Gulf Coast Super Regional in Houston, TX on May 7th and 8th. Winners from the Super Regional will go to the National Championship match in Kennesaw, GA on May 21st.

Men's Division 2

Austin Blacks vs Houston United Rugby Team

First up are the Austin Blacks vs the Houston United Rugby Team (HURT). The Austin Blacks have both their Division 2 and Division 3 sides representing in the Championship weekend. Austin are 9-1 this season, with their only loss coming from Dallas RFC back in December. The D2 playoffs are no unfamiliar territory for Austin, they won the RRRC Men’s D2 Championship back in 2019 and went to USAR Western Playoffs. This year has been particularly strong for Austin, whose closest match was a 36-26 win over neighbors the Austin Huns. HURT are also no stranger to the RRRC Championship weekend, with their Division 2 and Division 3 teams historically doing very well. This year HURT started the season late, and we didn’t really get a look at them until mid-March. With West Houston forfeiting the season, HURT only had six matches and are a lot less battle-scarred than Austin who had to play ten. Most impressive from HURT was the 24-17 win on the road at divisional leaders San Antonio on April 2nd. HURT is coming in hot, and this will be a clash of the titans.

Players to Watch:

The Austin Blacks are led by loose forward Ryan Rackley, a former San Antonio man. Rackley does a lot of the heavy lifting for Austin, surprisingly quick in the open field and near impossible to bring down solo. Joseph Rizzardi, the wing, stands out in the backline. Rizzardi is a speedster and a lethal finisher, he currently leads the Blacks in tries scored, with nine dotted down over seven matches. 

From Houston United it’s the winger Austin Pitts, whose cover defense was critical in the win over San Antonio at the end of the season. From the forwards, the back row is pretty intimidating thanks to Samuel Cooper and Connor Kelly, a winning combination that have started all regular season matches for HURT. Expect these two to make an impact at the breakdown.

San Antonio vs Dallas RFC

The other semi-final pits D2 powerhouse San Antonio against D1b’s second seed, the Dallas RFC. San Antonio have had a stunning season, leading the D2 division with a 7-1 record. They were undefeated until the first weekend in April when HURT beat them at home. Taking on San Antonio are the men in red from the Dallas RFC. These two teams played against each other in the 2018 RRRC Championship, with San Antonio topping Dallas 50-24. Already noted above, Dallas’ first side has already qualified for the National semifinals in May. How this will affect selection for the Division 2 side, we are not sure. Dallas has been 7-3 this spring, with losses to the Austin Huns, the Austin Blacks, and Fort Worth, all on the road. On the pitch, Dallas’ Division 2 side can be just as formidable as the first. Since they all train together, someone has to practice tackling those big Div 1 players, and it ends up being these Div 2 guys. Add in that Dallas have played three more matches than San Antonio (Dallas had one forfeit against them out of ten matches, San Antonio had two of eight); will that help the men in red come match day, or hurt them?

Players to Watch:

San Antonio operates as a true unit, everyone pulling their own weight; it was difficult to highlight just two individuals. In the back line we like Cliff Davidson, a fiery player who can slot in anywhere. Davidson coaches the Air Force 7’s and knows what it takes to make an impact in the open field. Bringing the experience to the front row is Chuy Alvarado, part of the 2018 San Antonio team who brought home the RRRC D2 title.

Dallas has strong front-rower Bobby Cannell who has started almost all of Dallas’ matches this year. He puts in work at the set piece, as well as makes some massive runs in the open field. In the back line it’s the White Lightning himself, Tommy Hever. Hever has years of experience with the Dallas RFC side and some serious wheels. Should San Antonio allow him in open space, they will surely regret it.

Women's Division 2

The Women’s Division 2 season has not had a good year. Some clubs have done very well, and others have been left to forfeit most of their matches. We are left with four teams who have not forfeited this season, and thus to the playoffs they go.

Little Rock vs Round Rock Rage

First up is Little Rock, who has only played one divisional match this year, in December, against the Dallas RFC. They won convincingly 71-0, but one match isn’t much to go on. Historically Little Rock has been very good, so we believe they will be a strong side entering the playoffs. They take on the Round Rock Rage, who are in their first year of club history. An absolutely stunning effort from the Rage this year, whose season-opening win against the Austin Valkyries was one we will all remember for years to come. We expect the Rage to acknowledge the massive challenge Little Rock poses, but come out with a fire under them – a first year club in the playoffs is something to take pride in.

Players to Watch:

We don’t have much to go on from Little Rock, but Abby Vestal, the inside center, seems to be unstoppable. She scored a hat-trick back in December against Dallas. Lauren Rushing and Kristina Hancock made a formidable pair of second rows, giving the scrum some engine power.

From Round Rock Rage it’s Analisa “Smalls” Ruiz, who plays anything but small. She thinks big thoughts and conveys that in contact. We also like Julia Norwood, a skilled player on the Austin Touch Rugby side, who can shift seamlessly between the two. Her game knowledge allows her to read the field and the gaps so she can slice through and make serious meters.

San Antonio Riveters vs Austin Valkyries

On the other side of the bracket is one of the most historic derbies in TRU Women’s Rugby, the San Antonio Riveters versus the Austin Valkyries. First up is San Antonio who have had a phenomenal spring season. They are currently 6-0, scoring an average of 68 points in matches played. In fact, their closest match to date was against the Austin Valkyries back in March, and that was 50-22, a whopping 28-point lead. San Antonio is on fire and not stopping anytime soon. Austin, who still field two sides, are having a bit of a rebuilding year and are 2-4 in D2 this year. The Austin roots run deep though, and one thing this team does not lack is pride and love for the jersey they wear. Ignoring the former scorelines, expect Austin to bring it on Saturday and face San Antonio with all they’ve got.

Players to Watch:

San Antonio has a roster of superstars, there’s no weak spot in the starting XV or on the bench. Leading the scoring is loose forward Couger Jaramillo with 13 outstanding tries this season. Noelle Heiser organizes the match from the scrum half position, connecting the forwards and backs with ease. She also has had the boot for this season, converting 30 tries by her team and adding a penalty goal for fun.

Austin has stalwarts Hez Rennerfeldt and Alicia Fischweicher who provide a wealth of experience to the forward pack. Flyhalf Marissa Dunagan, a former UT player, has started all matches this season, flexible in the backline. Wherever she is, she will seek out the ball, and be sure to get involved.

Men's Division 3

April 9th weekend had three blockbuster quarterfinals and one disappointing forfeit. We had our four teams set and saddled for the finals, until an ineligible player from Grand Prairie was brought to the attention of the Red River Competitions Committee. Not sure if you’ve ever taken a look at the eligibility requirements for USA Club Rugby multi-sided clubs – but it’s a monster maze. The RRRC understood this, but there is a precedent in place for such occurrences. The bottom line was Grand Prairie were deemed to have played an ineligible player and forfeited the match they previously won against Fort Hood (a thrilling match that tied at the death and went into an overtime before GP pulled it out at the end). Fort Hood retains their original seed (2) and will play in the semifinals; those matchups are detailed below.

Austin Blacks vs Bay Area Rugby Club

First up the Austin Blacks (1) take on Bay Area (5). Austin automatically qualified when Alamo City forfeited the day before the match due to injuries in the team. Massively disappointing for the Blacks, who have had the most forfeits against them this season. Maybe we hyped them up too much? They’re not that good guys… regardless, Austin is ready, and with an extra few weeks rest, geared up for one heck of a semifinal. They meet Bay Area who comes out of the quarterfinals after an epic win on the road in Louisiana against a very good Shreveport side. Bay Area was in control the entire match, after jumping to an early lead thanks to flanker Ramon Cordova. Shreveport was never far behind, and rattled BARC when they scored with 5 minutes to play to bring the score within 3. But it was BARC who were triumphant after the final whistle 28-25. Bay Area is hoping to make the long trek to Nationals that they haven’t been on since 2007, and no matter which road they take to get there, Austin sits squarely in their way. Can the men from Houston summon the power and might of that 2007 squad and topple the Austin Blacks? Will the Blacks continue their campaign to make a three peat of the National Championship? Find out Saturday.

Players to Watch:

The impressive roster Austin posted before Alamo’s forfeit has us looking at Connally McKay in the forward pack. McKay just gets better with age, he’s got pace with ball in hand and lays on some of the biggest hits on defense. From the backs we like Zak Triplett, the scrumhalf. Triplett has run this road before, hoisting the National Championship trophy in 2018 and 19. Expect quick ball, organized attack, and clean passes from him.

Bay Area has Carson Rampy, a massive man in the forward pack. He found the try-line once during the quarterfinal against Shreveport, and contributed all 80 elsewhere on the pitch. The backs are led by fullback Aaron Chatmon, whose speed is lethal on both attack and defense. He will be critical should Austin make a line break.

Fort Hood Old Skool vs Houston Arrows

The second semifinal pits the kings of the south against the kings in the central. Fort Hood Old Skool (2) are taking on the Houston Arrows (4). During the quarterfinals, Fort Hood took on the Grand Prairie Mavericks at home. After 80 minutes of nonstop action, the score was tied. Two 10-minute halves were played, during which Grand Prairie managed to score the winning try. However as explained above, massively confusing eligibility rules, and Fort Hood continues onward. As well as Grand Prairie played, and the win on Saturday – we don’t want to discount Fort Hood’s skill and ability or act like they are the lesser team moving onward. They were tied at full time. The bounce of the ball, the fatigue in the 90th minute, anything could have been the turning point. Fort Hood has had an excellent season, going undefeated in the D3 central. Frankly, we wish both teams could progress. So now we have the undefeated D3 Central champions against the D3 South Champion, the Houston Arrows. The Arrows have dazzled all season, and are running full steam into their first playoff run since they formed eight years ago. In the quarterfinals they hosted OKC Tribe, a fiery side who were also on their own debut run into playoffs. It was the Arrows on the board first thanks to a penalty goal from Norman Dillon, but OKC shot back with a try from Christopher Mapps Jr. The Arrows added their own try, and OKC gave another. And again. The half saw the score tied 15-15. The back and forth continued until the final 10 minutes, where OKC had a narrow lead 32-29. With two minutes to go, the Arrows gave it to the man who started off the scoring. In the 78th minute it would be a try from Norman Dillion that brought it to 34-32, Arrows win. Two last chance champions, who are used to the grit and the determination required to put it all on the line, meet on Saturday.

Players to Watch:

From Fort Hood we keep Marcus Allen in the lineup since he added yet another try to his collection this past weekend. We also want to highlight former Club president Connor Lydon who stepped in at 10 for the quarterfinal match, moving Darkow to 12. These two operated extremely well together in these positions, and we look forward to seeing more of it at semifinals.

From Houston Arrows, we can’t not mention Norman Dillon. He started and ended the scoring in that marvelous quarterfinal win, as well as commanding the boot for the Arrows. In the forwards it’s the hooker Thomas Batterson, who put in the full 80 during the last weekend. He’s had seven tries over the season, a veritable machine on the pitch.

The Men’s Division 4 and Women’s Division 3 do not seek a National Championship title and will not have formal divisional winners in the 2021-22 season.

For all the information about the TRU/RRRC Championship weekend, including streaming, hotel, and more – check out the Texas Rugby Union website and Facebook page.

As always – players to watch are not guaranteed to play, information is gathered from team-entered CMS data, and descriptions are added for fun and unbiased. Comments/concerns can be directed to kat@texasrugbyunion.com.